Back Chat with Ministry of Sound's Alexis James: 'I hate when people say the CD is dead'

Alexis James, commercial director at Ministry of Sound, takes aim at the treatment of independent labels by streaming sites and off-target claims that the CD is dead.

So, what’s been keeping you busy lately?

At Ministry of Sound there’s always plenty to get your teeth stuck into. Obviously we have the club – we do around 1,000 events every year around the world – but we have a great digital platform with around five million social media followers, a website and a gem of a platform in radio. In terms of our digital proposition we’re very much leading with that radio entity.

We’ve put more resource behind it and from a marketing perspective it’s a very interesting proposition. I don’t think the media industry is ready for digital audio advertising; it’s probably the last big untapped medium.

What’s your biggest gripe at the moment?

The music industry is changing and over the last few years – the rise of streaming services has been a really interesting thing for us to navigate. They [streaming sites] don’t necessarily treat independent labels as well as the majors.

The pool of revenue is divided up by catalogue, so if you’re Universal and you own 40 per cent of the world’s music catalogue and get 40 per cent of the revenue then you’re obviously going to be happier than an independent like Ministry that owns two per cent.

What are you hating?

I hate when people say the CD is dead. We sell 60,000 compilations a week and around half of those are CDs. Though it’s in decline it’s still a major part of our business. There has always been a thirst from the consumer to own their own music.

And what are you loving?

I’m loving working with brands. At the moment I have a pregnant wife and a new house so I don’t have that many exciting anecdotes outside of work, which is a bit all-consuming. We’re having some really exciting conversations with brands and that’s getting me up in the morning and keeping me up at night.

For the best part of two decades Ministry has operated as a brand and advertiser in its own right, and now we’re opening our doors to other brands but on the proviso and premise that it has to be something that adds to the experience. It’s not just about gratuitous brand slaps.

What would you do if you had unlimited resources?

I don’t think it would be much fun to have unlimited resources, where’s the challenge in that?

Are there any projects you wish you’d worked on but didn’t?

The early days of Facebook must have been an incredibly impressive, break neck, rollercoaster ride. Facebook’s gone from nothing to not just a household name but woven into the fabric of billions of people’s lives in the space of a decade. If I could have worked there during its first five years that would have been pretty impressive.

What inspires you most?

It’s incredibly exciting doing startups. Startups are great. But there’s a whole set of new challenges working with heritage businesses and taking them into the new world. Right now is a hugely important time for brands like Ministry if navigated correctly. I think it’s one of the most exciting and interesting things – you have to change a lot of old habits but in other respects there’s a lot to be learned from businesses that have been successful over time. It’s a great exchange of information.

Who inspires you generally?

It’s got to be my mum. A strong woman with an unbelievable work ethic and zest for life.

What’s your last word to the industry?

Embrace change, but consider it carefully.

With 14 years of experience including commercial roles at UKTV, Blinkx and ITV, Alexis James joined Ministry of Sound in January 2015. As commercial director, he now manages the commercial aspects of all departments, including product development, marketing and advertising.

This feature was originally published in the 19 August issue of The Drum.

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