3 Simple Steps That Would Fix The Record Business In 2016 Using Windowing

1 (1)Although hardly a new marketing technique, the time-tested practice of "windowing" new music releases could be the industry's ticket to a more profitable future, as well as providing artists with greater control over their compositions.


Guest Post from David Lowery of The Trichordist

This time last year we correctly predicted the restructuring of at least one major label group when we asked the question, “Who will be the First Fired Label Execs over Spotify Fiasco & Cannibalization?“. It didn’t take long for us to find out, “It’s Just Math : Digital Music Execs Exit, But will the Pivot to Paid Subs Be Enough To Save The Record Biz?” We’re still not sure that even paid subscription streaming actually works in the long term, but we know for sure that unlimited free streaming does not!

What a difference a year makes. What a difference Taylor Swift makes. What a difference Adele makes.


Going into the next year our prediction is that the power of windows can not be overstated as the leading solution to the problems faced by the record industry. Effective windowing has always been a part of the economic life cycle of every album release. The physical singles sales business (ya’ll remember 45 prm records, right?) – well, that was largely a loss leader to boost singles chart positioning that combined retail and radio reports.

In every record store there was the “hit wall” of discounted new releases to encourage higher volume sales. Every store stocked a robust variety of titles across different genres and price points comprised of front line titles, mid-line titles, budget line titles, and at the end there was the cut-out bin. Also, let us not forget the “11 records for a penny” record clubs advertised in magazines.

Those my friends are windows. Those who are advocating against windows are probably to young to know better or have been lead around by the nose by some digital snake oil salesman protecting their own interests.

This is not a philosophical discussion. This is financial reality. Respected stock analyst Robert Tullo who is the Director Of Research at Albert Fried & Company says this:

Longer term IP Radio and Spotify are good annuity revenue streams and great promotional tools. However, we believe the system works better for everyone when artists have the right to distribute their Intellectual property how they see fit.

Ultimately we think windows for content will form around titles that look much like the Movie Windows and that will be great for investors and the industry as soon as all these so called experts get out of the way and spot trading fashionable digital dimes for real growth and earnings.

Mr. Tullo is correct. Not only will artist (and rights holders) do better when they have the freedom of choice but so will the partner platforms. This is how it works in the film business. Every month the “virtual inventory” on Netflix is rotated. New titles come in, old titles go out. If you really, really, really want to see something right now, you have to rent it or buy it via a transactional stream or download. The record business will benefit from the same models and strategies. Windowing works. Period.

See here’s the thing… If these new digital platforms are so great for artists, why wouldn’t artists want to participate on them?  The benefits would be self evident? If the product that Spotify, Pandora, YouTube (and others) are offering is so good for artists, why are these companies so afraid of artists and rights holders opting out? Maybe, just maybe these platforms are not offering the type of value that their suppliers find meaningful?

It really speaks volumes when a business model is so bad that one of  the essential features for survival of the company is to deny its suppliers the option to fairly negotiate their participation or have the ability to opt out. In the old neighborhoods that was known as a protection racket, or extortion.

Silicon Valley didn’t invent the freemium, they’re just doing it wrong. Really wrong. Horribly wrong.

Let those who want to give away their work freely do so, but also allow those who would rather opt out the ability to do so. If artists find value in the freemium tier, and they may well as they always have, then let them chose how to best utilize that option. Musicians pioneered the freemium model often using street teams to canvas concerts by giving away cassettes to fans of similar music.

If digital platforms allowed artists to use their technologies creatively, everyone might be pleasantly surprised how much better (and more profitable) things would work out.

Watching Pandora lose $5 billion in value in a year becomes a punch line when they believe they are better suited to dictate to artists how to best communicate with their own fans. It is indeed interesting to see Pandora admit what we’ve been saying for years, unlimited, ad-supported free streaming unsustainable. No Kidding. Here it is from Brian Andrews, CEO of Pandora:

“This gray market is unsustainable. If consumers can legally listen to free on-demand music permanently without converting to paying models, the value of music will continue to spiral downward to the benefit of no one.”

Of course what makes this comment most interesting is that Pandora is entering the crowded field of on demand streaming with it’s purchase of the failed Rdio. Pandora now has to compete with Spotify’s very large free tier of unpaid and entrenched users. Migrating those users to a new on-demand streaming platform will be a challenge (ask Apple and Tidal), and even more so as artists and labels grow tired of subsidizing these horribly flawed business models.

Here’s three uses of freemium streaming most artists (and rights holders) would probably embrace if given the choice.

1: The Hit Single

6– Using the freemium platform to launch a single to gain ubiquitous awareness of a new album release. This is what both Taylor Swift and Adele did and the results speak for themselves. More artists would probably embrace releasing one or two songs or singles from an album on freemium tiers. With the artists support this becomes far more valuable than extorting the them into releasing their entire album on a platform they feel devalues their work.

BONUS: What if Adele made an official playlist of her favorite songs, leading with her new single? How much added value does an artist of this caliber bring to a platform when they feel they are being respected and valued? Answer, ALOT.

2: The Focus Track

– Not everyone has a hit single, but most artists have a focus track from their album. Like the hit single, these artists would embrace the opportunity to be discoverable and to build an audience of new fans. Developing artists are the most eager to try new opportunities because the have the most to gain. If digital streaming platforms worked with artists in a meaningful and respectful way, the mutual benefits could be huge for everyone.

3: Rotating Inventory Management

– By adopting a Netflix like inventory management of monthly rotating titles on the freemium (or even paid subscription) tier more artists might feel compelled to be more engaged. Rotating inventory management is a smart way to keep users and fans engaged as old titles rotate out and new ones in. This simple trick restores a great deal of the consumer engagement that is a part of discovery, and promotion.

Of course, the goal of every freemium model is to lead to more paid revenues in higher value products. Working together with artists and rights holders the future of streaming distribution could be very bright. But to get there we need to let go of Stockholm Syndrome. the old neighborhood protection rackets, bullying extortion threats and just plain bad business models.

There is a lot that can be done in the world of streaming. Streaming is not bad, it’s just a technology. Free streaming and subscription streaming both have their place in the ecosystem. What is bad are the exploitative business models, lack of transparency and devaluation of the artists work. These are fixable issues that have nothing to do with technology, just a lack of common and business sense.

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  1. Why stop there ? Steal everything else instead of paying for them : beer, bus/subway fares, iphones, cars, etc..
    Oh right… you can’t … you could get arrested by the police and spend time in jail.
    Fair enough.

  2. Download as in buy them at Itunes, that’s the idea. Download them as in illegally? LOL, then you probably aren’t paying for Spotify either, you’re a freeloader on the unpaid tier. Meh… Is that what you do every month when movies aren’t on Netflix, you steal them? How mature… BTW, I’m hot and I’m wearing a pink baby-t w/ no bra that says Piracy Is For Losers, Guitar is for Heros!

  3. Hi there,
    I wasn’t really talking about myself. I bought a lot of cd’s and have been a paying customer of Spotify for years. But the truth is, a lot of people do think this way, argue what you want.
    The point is: people know how to find music for free. That’s the reason why there needs to be a free tier for Spotify; to get people hooked on the service. That’s when they find out that they need to pay to listen unlimited or offline on their mobiles. You don’t get them to pay immediately if they can’t try. And people who after a few months don’t pay for Spotify or any other service, will never do this. Music just isn’t that important to them.
    However, the writers suggests that Spotify gives music away for free by writing: ‘but we know for sure that unlimited free streaming does not!’ This is not the case, like I said in the paragraph before this one. Meanwhile by claiming that Spotify is giving music away for free, he’s framing his story in a wrong way.
    Also, windows are not the answer. I don’t want to pay for Spotify if I’m not certain that I can listen to any song, any time, any place. Give the people what they want, when the want. Only then they will pay for it.
    I think I’m more on the customer side and the writer is on the artist side. (Probably complaining that he’s earning not enough via Spotify.) The answer is NOT making Spotify less attractive to customer by issuing windows, but by making sure that it’s more attractive. Don’t let artists do exclusives for certain streaming services. Like I said before, people now where to find music for free – and they will. Don’t (as an artist) complain about the service, making it look like it’s the problem – more less, making it look like it’s the customers problem – but embrace it. Motivate customer to use this or another streaming service.
    And then, just wait. Imagine if all of the people who pay for a cd would pay 10 euros/dollars every month to listen a streaming service.
    So, to wrap it up. Stop talking about Spotify as a problem, but embrace to possibilities. Get more people to pay, instead of making it look like the customer is the problem. And remember: the customer always wins!

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