The iPod put MP3s on the map, but many more products exist beyond Apple's offering - and the press is dedicating more resources than ever to cover it all.
The iPod's explosive popularity has been both a blessing and a curse for the MP3 sector. Apple's arrival helped bring legitimacy and profitability to the once illegal world of music downloads. But the media's fascination with all things iPod has created a challenge to educate consumers that there really is a lot more to MP3s than iTunes and the new Nano.
Fortunately, the MP3 market has now grown enough so that mainstream reporters are willing to consider iPod alternatives.
"You're still competing, but some editors and reporters don't want to follow the crowd," notes Anna Kozlowski, AE with HWH Public Relations, which represents Samsung. "They're looking for products that fit their audience's needs. There are more and more players with photo and video capabilities now. That appeals to reporters looking to offer more options in their coverage."
Searching for the unique
"People seek products that are unique, so if you just pitch some iPod clone, you won't get anywhere," adds Pam Golden Loder, president of Golden Loder Associates, which handles Thomson and its RCA Lyra brand of players. "RCA has an MP3 player with a heart-rate monitor built in. We've gotten great placement for that in health and fitness titles."
MP3s are so hot, it's become a dedicated beat. "I'm surprised at how many reporters are devoted to covering just MP3s," notes Phil O'Shaughnessy, senior director of corporate communications at MP3 device maker Creative.
Of course, not all articles are about the portable players themselves, but O'Shaughnessy suggests there's usually a hardware angle even in what are essentially MP3 content stories.
"In discussing download sites for music, you must talk about the players that support that site," he notes. "The same thing happens with subscription sites or when companies like Audible bring out books in MP3."
But what's really driving coverage now, O'Shaughnessy says, is MP3 stories on lifestyle, fashion, and design from outlets ranging from Cosmopolitan to Playboy to Brides and even TV shows like Live with Regis and Kelly. "In many cases, these reporters won't go into the [technical] specifics," he explains. "Instead they write, 'This player holds 8,000 songs, and this one holds 2,500.' As such, we try to tailor our approach to appeal to this broader audience."
Maintaining the media's interest
After years of iPod-led hype, however, some in the media have grown tired of writing about MP3 hardware. Aaron Wilson, AE with Miami-based PR and marketing firm Max Borges Marketing Solutions, says he's starting to come across reporters who are now almost defiant about not covering another iPod product.
"You can sense the saturation point is coming," says Wilson, whose client is NuMark, makers of the iDJ, a DJ mixing console for the iPod and other MP3 players. "However, these products are always changing. People realize it's more than a Walkman. It's a cultural phenomenon."
Matthew Hargreaves, account coordinator at Politis Communications, which represents HandHeld Entertainment and its ZVUE portable media player, says it takes more proactive outreach now, including aggressive product sampling, to help smaller companies get products noticed.
"It takes a lot of coordination when you have 40 products out at a time," he says. "Sending review models enhances the chances of getting coverage. The reviewer can play around with it, touch it, use it. It's not an abstract concept, but something they can grasp."
O'Shaughnessy adds that continued innovation in player technology, including the introduction of pictures and video, should ensure that coverage stays strong. "Now that we've entered video, the speculation is whether someone will strike a deal with a major studio for a download portal," he says. "Reporters will follow such issues and that will ensure ongoing interest in the category."
The fact that most MP3 players are priced in the $100-$300 range also leaves them well-positioned as evergreen products for a number of seasonal stories.
"In the past few months, we began by offering journalists targeted back-to-school tips and followed that up with holiday gift guides for long-lead pieces," says Golden Loder. "Now we're using the heart-rate monitor feature to pitch stories leading up to the New York and Chicago Marathons, so opportunities still exist for targeted media outreach."
Pitching... MP3 players
- MP3 players are no longer just a personal technology story, so leverage emerging trends to fuel interest from lifestyle editors and reporters
- The iPod still dominates the media's mindshare, but even introductions like the iPod Nano can be opportunities to pitch reporters on alternative players, since most seek any serious challengers to Apple
- The MP3 audio market may eventually face serious competition from various sources of portable entertainment, but the player category will continue to grow in the coming years, so look to position your client as one of the keys to that future