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Caught In The Crossfire: Rescuing User Experience From The Online Music Battlefield

Img-register-newsletter-Guest post by Ari Shohat, the Founder and CEO of Digitally Imported

The digital music industry is booming. Online music services are engaged in heated competition to amass more users, content, and revenues. Unfortunately, amid the excitement, a key business driver has been overlooked: User experience.

What’s wrong with online music user experience today?

Like many technologies, online music has evolved chaotically, with users forced to accept its shortcomings due to lack of better alternatives. There are three main problems with today’s online music user experience:

1) Lack of content strategy:

Online music services are failing users when it comes to content strategy. In most cases, this is due to their taking a user-driven approach: Compile a massive amount of content, then let listeners cut it down to a manageable amount.

This “Do-It-Yourself” approach is flawed on multiple levels. First of all, through its reliance on user input and effort, the act of creating user experience becomes the user experience itself. Furthermore, since user-driven curation is limited by listeners’ own knowledge, it only reinforces existing habits and preferences, resulting in an increasingly homogeneous selection of overplayed songs. Finally, supporting a massive content catalog diverts resources and attention away from creating meaningful content strategies that enhance user experience.

With more than 25 million digital tracks available, the onus is on music services to reduce the noise. Limiting the volume of content before user experience begins, rather than making the editing process a centerpiece of user experience, represents a major content strategy shift that will dramatically change the way listeners enjoy online music.

Once content catalogs have been pared down, deeper content strategies can be applied with much greater impact. Human curation is the most powerful tool for elevating user experience. Despite the best efforts of many music service companies, technology simply cannot replicate an authentic artistic touch.

Content strategies also apply to original and exclusive content. As music industry analyst Mark Mulligan has noted on Hypebot and on his music industry blog, limiting immediate, free and widespread access to new music elevates the value of that content, rewarding more loyal listeners with a special, VIP-level experience.

2) Fragmentation:

Streaming, on-demand and purchase-for-download options are awkwardly distributed among various services, rather than conveniently integrated for user ease. This is largely due to unique challenges the digital music industry faces in creating an integrated experience, most notably complex regulations and restrictions around music licensing and royalty payments.


HqdefaultDespite these challenges, music services can overcome structural obstacles to better meet user needs. For example, at Digitally Imported, the electronic music radio platform where I serve as CEO, we recently introduced a comprehensive music licensing model that will enable us to integrate streaming, on-demand and retail functionality under one roof. 

Not only does this model enable a new breed of functionality that elevates user experiences, it also makes better business sense. With its recent acquisition of Beats Music, Apple also seems to be making moves to integrate key consumption modes, an innovation that should benefit users greatly.

3) Inconsistent pricing:

Starting with the shift from tangible to digital products, music pricing has been a moving target, poorly reflecting actual value. With the rise of streaming, most music services have settled on two basic pricing options – free and premium. However, services that are supported by revenue channels other than digital music threaten the status quo by undercutting the market. In the end, users are left confused about what, if anything, digital music is worth.

It is fair to assume that many users will always opt for a free option, even if the experience is subpar. But for the users who are inclined to invest in a paid option, there is little incentive; in most cases, the premium experience is only marginally better than the free one – but significantly more expensive.

As evidenced by low premium adoption conversion across the industry, ad-free listening and access to a massive, curate-it-yourself catalog simply don’t warrant the leap from free to top-of-the-line pricing. Users are ready for a wider selection of premium offerings that are both more affordable and more beneficial.

Facing the music with user experience

With future royalty rates as yet undetermined, user growth rates slowing and premium subscribers still in the minority, the online music industry has its back against the wall. In the race to secure the future of online music, there is one important card left to play: User experience. Judging by average premium service adoption rates, online music users have spoken. Now the question is, who will listen?

Online radio pioneer Ari Shohat is the founder Digitally Imported and currently serves as its CEO. Since its launch with a single channel in 1999, Digitally Imported has become the premier online destination for electronic music fans worldwide, enjoyed by more than 3.8 million monthly listeners. 

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