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Branding experiments- the good, the bad and the fuggly

Laugh all you want to Universal and Rolling Stone for making weird moves in the world of marketing but they might have the last laugh in the end. Starting with RS, this Women's Wear Daily article tells that the ol' magazine is rolling out a line of T-shirts and soon will have handbags and other fashion accessories. Note that the WWD article makes fun of RS and its fogey status but the fact of the matter is that RS happens to still have a huge circulation, maybe one of the (if not THE) best for a music magazine. With mag sales constantly dropping, the news biz (much like the record biz) is looking for ways to shore up their bottom line. Branding, especially when you have a well-known name that's still respected in some quarters (they have a seven figure circulation after all), is a smart idea for a mag to keep money flowing in. Even if you don't happen to be a fan of RS, it happens to be a good idea and one that you'll see other smart pubs follow. You also have to wonder if ideas like this might have helped to shore up mags like No Depression which recently went under. I don't think selling T-shirts by itself would have saved them but it could have been part of an overall plan/solution.

As for Universal, their plan is to start a series on the Bebo social network where an imaginary employee starts his own label and signs bands. They're letting users go in to rate them and to suggest groups to them too. I don't see a rosy scenario for this but the idea's kinda intriguing. The problem is that Universal doesn't have a brand name like smaller labels do (say Sub Pop or Thrill Jockey or Def Jux)- I mean, who the hell is going to follow releases just because Universal puts them out? But partnering with Bebo was a smart move on the part of Universal and the idea of an ongoing story (like a TV series) isn't a bad idea if you happen to have some interesting scripts and worthwhile music. Again, like the RS plan, even if you're not a fan of anyone involved in the project, the idea has potential and shouldn't be blown off- it might evolve into a better model elsewhere and turn some heads.

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