How To Fix Streaming Music’s Business Model
Op-ed by David Lowery of The Trichordist.
It’s not that streaming can’t work. It can. It’s that Spotify is a bad business model that has unsustainable economics and exploits artists because it is a wall street financial instrument and not a music company.
We’ve previously published a couple posts on streaming music where we explore how access models and windowing are working for the film industry and could serve as a guide to the record business. We’ve also shown how transactional music purchases have made legal music consumption the best value in the history of recorded music.
The key to building streaming business models that make sense and are sustainable is to increase the subscription fee’s, utilize well thought out windowing models and experiment with new pricing tiers for access bases services.
Historically the music business has employed the use of special markets such record clubs (remember 11 CD’s for one penny). It’s not that record clubs were bad, in fact numerous studies found them to be great source of additional revenue if managed in a way that did not cannibalize front line sales. Now we need to strike the same balance with streaming services.
So let’s get real, the Spotify business model and streaming math just does not work and can not work in it’s current form.
Here are five suggestions to get music streaming back on track as a viable business model.
1) Minimum Payment Per Play
You want to give your service away? Fine, but artists and rights holders are not going to subsidize your business by devaluing our work. All plays pay at paid subscription rates. If you can’t sustain your business doing this, then you need to rethink how your business works. Your bad business model is not our problem. Maybe an unlimited, non-graduated free tier is a really, really, really bad idea. 30 Day trial offer, ok. Virtually unlimited free access, no.
The music business must embrace windowing to maximize revenues across all distribution channels and platforms. It’s so basic we can’t believe artists and labels are not utilizing this to greater effect. The first 30 days of a new release could be limited to transactional streaming access by the day, week, or the month at different price points. Likewise, perhaps only two songs from an album are made available on streaming platforms for the first year of release. There are many unexplored variations and options.
3) Transactional Streaming
The music business needs to embrace new models such as “transactional streaming” much like VOD exists for film versus transactional downloads or physical product. There is no reason why streaming distributors should have every title, ever released, for one fixed, flat price. Again, new releases in particular should be priced as transactional streams where the consumer can chose between low cost limited access to a new release, or pay more for a transactional download.
4) Tiered Pricing based on Access and Consumer Value Proposition
Just like cable tv and SiriusXM, one possible solution is to create price tiers based on access. For example, catalogs can be curated into genre and lifestyle packages. Creating bundled packages adds value to both the end user and the streaming service. Individual packages can be as little as $4.99 a month, and complete access could priced at $49.99 a month. Again, there are many unexplored variations and options.
5) Move Beyond Stockholm Syndrome
The answer to every attempt to introduce real world economics to the marketplace can not be met with “or else they’ll steal it.” We already know that. They have been stealing it for over a decade (thank you Mr. Ek for your contributions to uTorrent). The film industry is not approaching streaming with a gun to it’s head offering every title ever made on every platform for one low monthly fee. Itunes is the single most successful dedicated online music business ever, and it doesn’t have a “free-tier”.
Isn’t it odd that companies like Pandora and Spotify that are not profitable and don’t support artists are thought to behold some kind gnostic wisdom of economics that defies all logic and reason? Last year Twitter lost $645 million dollars. Record labels have been profitable for over half a century with a sustainable ecosystem that invests in artists and new talent, while also creating hits and stars. It’s time to leave the rainbow unicorn school of economics and faith healing behind and develop real business models based on real economics.
Anyone remember the dot com bubble? Where is mp3.com now? Things can and do change fast in web/tech. Any talk of the “record industry” without MySpace in 2004 and you would have been laughed out to the room. Where is MySpace now? Spotify can (and very well may) quickly become MySpace. So let us all focus on how to make streaming actually work for all stakeholders and not only those with equity… it’s just math.