Case Study: Do Audiences Really Want As Much Choice As We Think?

Steve Jobs wasn’t a big fan of asking Apple’s customers what they wanted.  He believed that the best way to push everything forward was to define a direction for the marketplace and force everyone to follow along.  One of his favourite quotes had to do with Henry Ford.  “If he had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘A faster horse.'”

Choice is great until there’s too much of it.  Too many options can leadsto confusion and paralysis, even when the project starts with the best of intentions.

Take the case of the Kaiser Chiefs.  Last June, a widget appeared on their website directing fans to their new album, The Future is Medieval.  The band offered fans an interesting–and, so they thought, liberating and empowering–choice.

“Here are twenty tracks,” they said, “Pick any ten to create your own album and it’s yours for 10 quid.  And if you want, here’s a way for you to sell your version of our new album.  For every copy you sell, we’ll give you a pound.”  Clever, no?  

About 14,000 albums were sold through the Kaiser Chiefs website–which is okay, but hardly great.  It turns out that the group’s fan had an issue when faced with this choice.  With twenty tracks available, the number of combinations of 10 songs (not to mention the myriad of possible running orders–could someone work out the math for me?), fans became confused.

That’s when they started demanding that someone–the band, a label, anyone with authority–provide a definitive track listing and running order.  Twenty-four days after that widget appeared, the KC released a physical version of the album featuring 12 of the 20 songs.

Now, come March 6, there’s going to be another version of the album under the title Start the Revolution Without Me.  Having learned from the tyranny of choice experiment in the UK, this version will feature 12 tracks from those original 20 plus a new song called “Without Me.”  

I find this fascinating.  I more-or-less reinforces my theory that choice is a great thing until you are so overwhelmed with choice that you just want someone else to tell you what to do.  It’s also why I believe that music curation–sorting and filtering through a vast reservoir of music of the benefit of those who trust you to do so–is only going to become more important.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “Case Study: Do Audiences Really Want As Much Choice As We Think?

  • March 4, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    20 choose 10 works out to 184756 possible track combinations. I believe this works out to 20030010 different possible albums.

  • March 4, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    Hey Alan,

    This is pretty similar to a column I wrote for Quip Magazine a couple week ago called "Lost in Choices: The sea of unlimited new music". Thought you might like to give it a read:



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