Site Review: Immergent – The Social Shopping Music Store

Music is inherently social.  People love sharing great songs with friends, family, and colleagues.  People converge in stadiums, concert halls, bars, and auditoriums in order to hear live music. People used to visit record stores more frequently to find hidden treasures in between known artists on the shelves.

What would happen if a music store enabled the social aspects of music in the online space? It isn’t a secret that the internet changed how people consume music, but it also influenced how people share, learn and elevate a band’s career as well. (Ripped by Greg Kott is a great book about the music industry and the Internet.)

Immergent, a new digital record store, took all of the social technology that is currently popular and created a destination that enables people to share music through a variety of methods.  Whether directly on the website, or through popular social networks, music fans can encourage others to buy music.

Immergent was launched in front of a room full of music executives at the NARM 2010 convention held in Chicago. Three to four weeks after the launch, it’s hard to say how well the website is doing. After all, iTunes is still THE digital music shopping destination, and taking on Apple is no easy feat.

Overall, the concept is a great. But there are parts of the website that need some modifications. Over the past few weeks, I have tinkered with the website in my spare time preparing for the following review.

The Good

Music Store Database– Immergent has a remarkable catalog. I searched for some oddball stuff and to my amazement the majority of it is available. There were few exceptions, but by and large the database is pretty expansive and inclusive of just about everyone well-known and under-known.

Search – The search function is very easy to use.  Type in a song title, album title or artist name and results immediately come up organized by songs, albums, and artists.  After accidentally typing in some junk, the closest matches were found.  Classical music fans might have a little more trouble locating content because of how the database is organized.

Purchase – Purchasing and downloading songs was easy.  I bought the newest album by Jace Everett, Red Revelations, to test the functionality. The payment process is fluid and what customers would normally expect from an online store.  Upon finalizing the purchase, a pop-up window requested a Firefox plug-in installation to download songs.  After installing the plug-in, songs began downloading two at a time.  Using a cable service, downloading 12 songs was pretty quick at approximately 5-6 minutes.  All songs are available as an MP3.

Social Networking – Immergent makes it easy to share any song to Twitter, Facebook, and Digg.  Every song, album and artist has a set of icons that redirect users to the appropriate platform.  Emailing is also possible.

Commenting – Every song, album, and artist has Disqus enabled.  Brilliant. This means that every song bought or browsed gives users the opportunity to leave a comment and interact with one another.

Community Ranking – Songs, albums, and artists can be given a thumbs up or down. Community ranking, as I understand it, impacts what appears on the home page.  Therefore, this feature allows community members to help build a reputation and visibility for lesser known artists.

Musician fees – Immergent’s fee is only 30%, which means the rest goes to the label and/or artist.  For the DIY artist, this could be very promising once iMMerge is launched (Information about iMMerge under “What is coming next”).

Sandbox – Sandbox is Immergent’s blogging area. In the Sandbox, staff provides their current favorites and opinions about music.  In essence, every employee acts as a music curator.  Visitors will find news, reviews, and more.

What Needs Some Help

Instead of labeling this section “bad,” I thought it would be more constructive to offer some areas that could benefit from some modification.  There really isn’t anything “bad” about this website, just some need for improvement.

Limited Streaming – In the new age of music shopping, the ability to hear music before a purchase is huge in my book. Allowing music fans to hear complete albums and songs encourages buying. No one wants to hear snippets of songs, especially from lengthy pieces. It is one the big issues with Amazon and iTunes.  All online streams are only 30 seconds long.  This is the most undesirable trait about the website.  If this single feature is changed, I am totally sold on this website. Despite the snippets, browsing other areas on Immergent does not interrupt listening.

Chat – While a built in chat room is an excellent feature, unfortunately there isn’t anyone to chat with. Three weeks and counting, the chat rooms are empty.  Maybe it’s because there aren’t many users yet? Or, perhaps the feature hasn’t caught on yet.  Hopefully this is a temporary issue. The technology allows users to communicate with each via text, audio and/or video.

Playlists – One of the big features of the website is the ability for anyone to create playlists.  But there is a major issue I came across. First, you can’t add certain songs to a playlist because of length, which is a bit annoying.  For example, I tried creating a Dream Theater playlist and I couldn’t add many of the band’s songs over ten minutes in length. Only songs sold as singles, which are under ten minutes in length, can be added to a playlist. Any song should have the option to be added to a playlist regardless of how it is sold or its length. If a song’s length presents an issue because of pricing at 99 cents, then sell it at a greater rate. Classical music fans will have problems creating playlists because so many compositions and movements exceed ten minutes.

Concert Listings – As customers peruse the website, concert listings will appear as long as the artist is currently or will soon be on tour. Although it is nice to include concert tour information, but without the ability to buy concert tickets through Immergent makes this feature a bit pointless.  Maybe there is a grander plan around this, but plans are unknown.

Friending – Today, there is no capability to “friend” other members.  Adding the ability to connect with others could serve as a sales driver. But it is a catch-22. Currently, Immergent asks for very little personal information  2e. Considering the ongoing concerns about online privacy, people may resist joining yet another “community.” Fortunately, John Trickett, Immergent’s CEO, understands the concerns around privacy.  It is very clear that he doesn’t want to trample on people’s privacy or pull a Facebook. Since Immergent was constructed using consumer feedback, the community may push for the development around this idea.

What Is Coming Next

Since Immergent just launched, there are several notable elements that are currently in development.  Plus, a couple of other possibilities are thrown in as possible future developments.

iMMerge –  Artists will soon have the ability to create their own profiles, upload their own music, and directly connect with fans.   Based on some preliminary information, it sounds very positive, especially with the” Chat” function enabled.  An artist could potentially host live chats with fans from within the website.  For DIY artists with little income, this could really be a component that is useful.

Videos – Immergent has an agreement with a company, not yet announced, that will deliver a variety of video footage.  Can’t help but wonder if Vevo will have a presence on Immergent.

Widgets – The ability to embed any tracklist, album, video or song onto any website is a given.  Tying widgets into an affiliate program could also be a very effective to help build momentum for the website.

Facebook App? – There hasn’t been any mention of a Facebook app, but it might be on the company’s radar for the future. Having an app to search, share and purchase music through Facebook could serve as a powerful way for people to share recent purchases and/or music recommendations from within the platform.

Listening Stream? – What if Immergent added a Twitter like stream that allowed users to share discoveries in an internal “Listening Stream”.  Scribd, a document sharing website, has a similar concept where users can “scribble” documents.

Final Verdict

Despite the fact that Immergent has a few kinks to workout, the website has a strong foundation.  The main components such as a comprehensive catalog, easy purchasing process, and quick downloading time are all present. The ability to share content through a number of different means is also excellent. Increasing activity is the biggest challenge for the company.  Regardless, music fans looking for an iTunes substitute or replacement can turn to Immergent as a destination to discover and buy music.

Give Immergent a try, and let us know what you think.

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