Discovery, royalties, the fear of going first, and more with Will Page, former Spotify Chief Economist
Former Spotify Chief Economist and industry analyst Will Page sat down for an insightful interview with Your Morning Coffee’s Jay Gilbert and Michael Echart, and Hypebot has the exclusive transcript.
Page is also the author of Tarzan Economics: Eight Principles in Pivoting Through Disruption. You can listen to the interview in the player that we’ve embedded below.
MIKE ETCHART: Well, Jay, here we are as promised. We teased this in the 100th episode that we were going to have a special episode and that’s what this one is. So we are pretty fired up to be talking to this chap. We are going to be be talking to none other than Will Page!
JAY GILBERT: Will Page is the former Chief Economist of Spotify and PRS for Music where he pioneered Rockonomics. At PRS he published work on Radiohead’s In Rainbows and saving BBC 6Music. At Spotify he helped redefine catalogue, uncovered the anatomy of a hit and articulated the global value of music copyright.
MIKE: His first book, Tarzan Economics: Eight Principles in Pivoting through Disruption was published in April 2021 and was nominated by the Financial Tmes as best business book that month. A passionate communicator, Will’s work is regularly featured in Billboard, The Economist and the Financial Times; his most recent article argued The music industry makes more money but has more mouths to feed.
JAY: [He’s the] author of an amazing article that we did a deep dive into on this podcast titled TWITCH’S ROCKONOMICS FULL STORY
JAY: And finally ~ Co-host of the BUBBLE TROUBLE PODCAST [LISTEN HERE] with independent analyst Richard Kramer ~ that lay out some inconvenient truths about how financial markets really work.
JAY: Will, thank you so much for joining us today. I wanted to kick it off by talking about a report from Mark Mulligan at MIDiA. And for those who don’t know, Mark is the Managing Director of MIDiA, which is a media and tech analysis company based in London. You’ve had a chance to review Mark’s latest music industry forecast. What did you learn?
WILL PAGE: Well, firstly, a big head tip to Mark Mulligan and the whole team [at MIDiA]. They are so prolific. I’m not sure if they actually sleep because they’re just knocking it out time and time again with work. And on this occasion, he’s excelled himself.
I think his forecast is really important, really timely. I think there’s a lot of confusion, a lot of debate about where the business is going. We’ve climbed a great mountain. Now, how do you know you’re at the top? You get to where you think is the top? Is there another mountain to climb? But this is a good one.
I want to really stress to the industry here we’ve now got a good credible, well thought out forecast for the music industry. And yes, it’s more growth. I’m not saying any stalling, not seeing too much saturation. I am seeing more growth, but it’s different growth, Jay. It’s different growth.
Four Music Industry “Headlines”
WILL: I’ll give you a couple of sort of headlines. We can get into it.
One, the ARPU figure, which is interesting. The average revenue per customer is constant in their forecast. So we’ve heard for years ARPU is declining. They have it leveling off and there could be a bunch of reasons that we can get into about why that might be happening.
Then, two, they have this thing called non-DSP revenues. Which is interesting when we think about the alphabet soup of how we talk about the music industry, like all these acronyms you have to get your head around. We now have DSP revenues, get that, Spotify, Apple, Amazon, but non-DSP revenues. And that’s going to become a big part of this business. So, Peloton isn’t a DSP, it’s something else, but it’s a top 10 account for pretty much all major record labels right now.
Third one – they put their put their money on vinyl petering out by 2026 / 2027, which based on my lucent bank statements, I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon, but they’re saying that vinyl number’s going to be up in a few year’s time. So that’s an interesting observation.
And then finally, I think the other one which jumped out at me is neighboring rights. So Sound Exchange in the US. PPL over here in the UK, they see that declining. Now you can say, “no shit Sherlock” we’ve been expecting that for a while. But they’ve now got it in the forecast. And that’s important because that’s a large chunk of cash beginning to decline, which can put a drain on the overall growth figure going forward. For the people listening to your podcast, who do investments in music catalogs, who are modeling this market. That’s a really important consideration, which is, not only do we have CDs and downloads in decline, but we could have performance rights income in decline as well.
So there’s a lot in there, but again, I just want to reiterate that MIDiA has excelled themselves. You’ve now got a really solid, credible forecast, unlike (not mentioning any names), some of the investment banks out there who I think just apply a ruler in a northeast gradient and plot a line. If you actually apply a ruler to their forecast, it fits their line pretty perfectly. But then there’s this one [from MIDiA], this is a really solid, credible piece of work. A lot to get into.
JAY: I’m a big fan of MIDiA; Mark Mulligan, Keith Joplin, and the whole team over there. They’re absolutely fantastic.
You’ve got a podcast called Bubble Trouble, and I haven’t missed one episode. You and Richard Kramer. It’s funny, it’s informative. I’ve learned so much from it. One of the things I’ve learned is that economics is less about the economy and financial institutions and more about human behavior and incentives. Tell me a little bit about Bubble Trouble.
WILL: Well, I remember meeting Richard Kramer during the lockdown, and he was just making some observations on the stock market in a very sort of New York ranting, very loud way. People in New York could have heard him say this, was that loud. But he was saying, “look at Airbnb; nobody’s staying during the lockdown in hotels or bed and breakfasts yet. Their stock price is up. Look at Uber, nobody can get into cars. Their stock price is up.” He was looking at the irrationality of markets and that made me interested.
In an observation that we both shared; “why is it that half the stocks go up and half the stocks go down yet these analysts have got ‘buys’ on everything?” You can’t buy everything if half go up and half go down. And there’s these two words that begin with the letter S which will really resonate. I think it was just episode one of Bubble Trouble. (We’re now on our 50th episode, you’re on the hundredth of yours), but it’s “sycophants and stenographers.” That is that these analysts, this analyst cottage industry’s job is to ‘appraise not praise.’ Yet you jump onto these analyst calls and they congratulate the CEO on having a great quarter. Your job is not to congratulate with CEO. Your job is to drill into those numbers and work out what’s really going on. So the purpose of that podcast is to expose a lot of that, which is how do we help our listeners work out what’s really going on? That it is titled Bubble Trouble is ironic. I would say has appreciated in currency as the stock market has imploded.
There’s that famous story of the boy who cried wolf. Which is, why is it that we always seem to get a little bit over-excited in stock markets. We get ourselves a little bit frothy, markets get a little bit bubbly and then comes the trouble. When will we ever learn the lessons of past mistakes?
“we’re exploring the metaverse and boy, is there some bubble trouble around that terminology”
Currently we’re exploring the metaverse and boy, is there some bubble trouble around that terminology! Trust me! Speak to a festival promoter and ask you if he’s worried about the metaverse and they’ll just look at you in the face and say, “no, people like real life.”
MIKE ETCHART: I also want to get back to the MIDiA [report] and then also some of the things you just covered. To those of us that are just the “average Joe” in the music business. We look at, let’s say, a particular investment bank report or the MIDiA report. We don’t know how those things are created, how those things are calculated. Give us a sort of a snapshot of what, when you’re doing these sort of forecasts, what is a best practice in terms of how you collect data and how you collate it and get to your numbers? Because it seems that if you’re just out there reading these things, you have no earthly idea how they are created or why one would be something you wouldn’t necessarily pay attention to or be suspect of.
WILL: The data source is right there so in my work, I try and make as much of them free and available as possible. The IFPI record industry in numbers yearbook, that’s a big one. My global value of music copyright. Hopefully that explains a lot to this industry about just how much the entire business is worth. Not just record labels, but the publishers and the collecting side. So there’s a lot of data out there you can use. You can look at addressable market information; how many unique people have got a smartphone in an economy and your base for forecast around that if you want to anchor your story. But for your “average Joe” as you say, you can still spot mistakes.
For example, in some of these analyst notes I’ve seen from Wall Street, they’re using the US average revenue per user figures to plot global projections. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. The per stream in America is bigger than the ARPU in India. Let’s just be mathematically clear on this. I don’t think it’s beyond the reach of your average Joe, to spot these mistakes. And bringing it back to the podcast, what we try and do is give people the tools to spot where these mistakes are to be able to see through a lot of the glossy headlines and the ruler based gradients in their charts to work out what’s really going on underneath it.
MIKE: You’ve got a number one mix on MixCloud this year; “We Ain’t Done With 2021.” Talk a little bit about that. And as I look at your CV, you’ve had this lovely career of working in economics and then I’m sure much to the dismay of your family and friends, you find yourself in the music business. Talk about that kind of nexus and then talk about your MixCloud.
WILL: Well, I’ve been doing mixtapes since puberty, just for the record. So, what MixCloud allows me to do is just to continue doing what I love. Once a year, digging in the crates and putting a mix tape together to capture all music I think can move the needle, that can change culture.
This year’s mix I got to profile a band, SAULT, I think is the hottest band in the world right now. But the whole mix tape culture for me was inspired by one lyric by a rapper called Mike G from the band The Jungle Brothers where he said in 1989, ‘it’s about getting the message across without crossing over.’ Which is, how do you get your music across without diluting its integrity?
Then I heard him say that, on the album ‘Done By the Forces of Nature’ and you and I heard that lyric, it just changed my life, which is. That’s your purpose, right? To discover art that wouldn’t be discovered by anyone else and to get it across an audience without diluting the integrity of the art itself.
And what’s a great honor for me on this year’s mix is that Mike G opens a mix. We have him giving a shout out. And then I’ve put a rap by Mike G and The Jungle Brothers over a remix of Screamadelica and it just works. Streaming numbers are up we’re up to 35,000 in counting. I’ve overtaken, Erica Badu and I think it’s the most listened to mix of this year in MixCloud.
It shows I’m not a ‘has been’ yet! I’m a ‘gonna be not a has been’ if I can keep getting the message across without crossing over. That’s what makes me happy, not spreadsheets and contracts. ‘They was getting people to dougie.’
On Music Discovery
JAY: That’s fantastic. One thing I appreciate about you, Will, is that, at your core, you’re a music fan like we are. There so many ways to discover music today. How do you discover new music?
WILL: Well, I’ll just touch on that MIDiA report again, because they’re on the cusp of something which I think is going be quite big, and this takes a bit of explaining so bear with me. They think it’s less about what’s new, what’s hot, what’s in [Spotify’s] Release Radar and more about, you, you know, who’s Jay Gilbert? What’s his life story? And there’s a really big point we’ve got to hammer home here, which is that Spotify knows me from 2009 to present. And Spotify will know you from, if you joined in the American launch 2011 to present, but you and I had been listening to and loving music for a lot longer than 2009.
So I remember working on Discover Weekly back in launch and discovering “Perfect Skin” by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions thinking, wow, Discover Weekly served me up this song, but I didn’t discover it – I rediscovered it. We’re talking recall here. That was a song I heard way back then, that Discover Weekly served me up now.
So you can see right there. This is not about the new, it’s about the you, it’s about getting to your life in music, not what the algorithm thinks is new to your life in music. And I think that’s where this is going to go. For me, it’s discovery. I am big with the vinyl traders websites like Discogs and Juno here in London, which is huge. Those two have got great promotional tools because they know what you’re buying, so they know where your money is at. They can give you a better recommendation of where your mouse is at.
And then also, just intimate groups. I mean, shout out to Vanessa Bakewell, Scott Williams and Jamie Doling all these – we have a tight group of like 10, 15 people who recommend each other hip hop tracks and that’s been going on for 15 years. This will be irrelevant for most of your listeners, but all your listeners will have those little tight groups that they know and trust that they go to. So when you have a wealth of information, all its algorithmic choice, you have a poverty of attention. I think what we’re wanting a bit more now is intimacy. Get to know who I am pre post Spotify. And build my recommendations on what you know, because life began long before 2009.
Soundcloud & User-Centric Royalty Distribution
MIKE: We’ve just we’ve just heard some big news on ‘user-centric.’ Kind of walk us through that.
WILL: You’ve seen in the top story in MusicAlly, Stewart Dredge Pro Rata created did a great job reporting on this and SoundCloud talking about results of their fan-powered royalties. Now fan powered royalties is a much sexier way of saying user-centric distribution, but it’s important that we just go through this debate just for your listeners benefit.
As it currently stands, all the major streaming services do something called pro rata distribution, which simply means if you get 1% of all the streams in this country for this month, you will get 1% of all the cash generated in this country for this month. Simple, here’s Tom with the weather, we’re done.
Everyone can figure that out. The user-centric model is like a fan club. So now all your money goes to just what you streamed. We’re gonna ring-fence the money to your performance, and then it starts to get quite complicated. But I think the debate really there is about fairness. Ideally ‘my music, my money’ versus efficiency. Pro rata is an efficient way of allocating money. User-centric is a fair way of allocating money.
And there’s a very important tradeoff between those two. You know, one thing that people don’t often consider is the transparency element. Under pro rata, thanks to this thing called the law of averages, all streams are valued the same, and they don’t change much. I mean, since 2011 we’ve been talking about half a cent per stream and you get a million streams, you get 5,000 bucks, and you pull out your royalty. Now you can work it out in your head. Even a drummer can work it out in his head, how much you’re gonna earn from streaming. And that’s saying something, whereas with user-centric, one stream could be worth a fraction of a fraction of half a cent per stream. And the other could be worth $5.13 because that one person streamed one song in an entire month.
Now, when you introduce that volatility, what happens to transparency? And that’s, that’s just an interesting thing that, you know, you have to contend with this debate, but it’s credit to SoundCloud were trying something new. I think their model is different from the big boys of Spotify, Amazon, Apple, and YouTube.
But I do think we need to keep debating how do you make fair ‘fairer?’ How do you put letters ER after the word fair? The current model is good. I don’t consider upending it, but there are things you can do. Things you can learn from the collecting societies. Most interestingly from the ASCAPs the BMIs PRSs in this world who for a hundred years have been adjusting the value of music. We’ve had streaming for 20 years, we’ve never adjusted it once. We’ve never even adjusted a price point once. There are so many lessons like duration based, you know, wait, check this out. If Radio1, BBC Radio1 pays PRS and PPL it’s pro-rata and it’s duration based; longer songs earn more money. That’s an objective decision made by the collecting societies and BBC to price music that way.
They don’t have engineers, they don’t have tech companies, but in our streaming world, we still haven’t considered duration or time of day waiting. We’re incentivizing better songs with bonus payments. All this type of stuff seems to be going on for a hundred years in collecting Saudi world, but hasn’t even started year one and streaming world. And that for me, puzzles me.
JAY: I first reached out to you, will, when I read this article that you wrote called twitches Rockonomics We’ve talked about it on this podcast a lot. We just thought it was so well written and it was such an area that was, I think, under reported at the time. But then, you have this book, Tarzan Economics, and we can talk about that as well, but you published ‘malbeconomics’ when inflation wasn’t a thing. Righ? So now that it’s big, how do you reflect on that work given prices are out of control.
WILL: It’s a big one. So malbeconomics was to be provocative, to be really provocative. Which is we’ve had this UK inquiry into streaming economics now for well over a year. We’ve had Nile Rogers being cross-examined by members of the British parliament. I mean, if lockdown couldn’t get any weirder, that really took it to the next level. And it was a great inquiry. Great questions, great report, great responses. I thought the Ska band, Madness, their response to the inquiry was the best because it was one line. “Dear parliament, give us more money – The Band” Other people like droves and droves of pages with facts and figures. That was, that was a madness summary. But now we had a really, really good debate and I think there’s a point for what is largely an American audience in your podcast, which is contagion. Now Britain’s had its inquiry, stay tuned, cuz you can bet your bottom dollar that America, Canada, France, and Germany will wanna copy us as well.
But one thing the debate didn’t raise or didn’t even touch on was price. I don’t think it’s for the record labels to say the price is wrong. I don’t think it’s for the streaming services to say the price is wrong. I don’t think it’s for the politicians to say consumers are getting music cheap, that ain’t gonna get you reelected. That’s not a vote winner. So I thought, screw it. I’ll say it. So I produced this word called malbeconomics, which is a pretty unique word. Hopefully, people see the pun there, malbeconomics that will crop up on Google, to say what’s happened to a glass of wine, Malbec wine, a medium glass, 175 milliliters of wine over the past 20 years? And what’s happened to the price of music? So just to go back in time, on the 3rd of December, 2001. Rhapsody, you remember Rhapsody? Rhapsody got its license for 15,000 catalog songs. And the price it was given was $9.99. To match the cost of a blockbuster video rental card, which I just find hilarious. We are now podcasting in mid-July 2022 way more than 20 years after that event, and guess what? In Euro, Sterling and dollar is 9 99, and we’re all talking 15,000 songs. We’re talking 80 million songs. We’re talking smartphones, apps, collaborative listening. So music’s offered more and more and more. But it charges less and less and less in both nominal and real terms. This is key; 2.3 people paying $14.99 for a family plan. Sorry to bombard you with numbers here. That’s six pounds fifty each. That’s not 9 99. It’s getting cheaper on the face value. It’s getting cheaper when you strip out inflation. Whereas that one glass of wine hasn’t changed one milliliter, but their price has gone from four pounds to eight pounds. They’ve doubled.
So my point is. Why is it that wine charges more and more for exactly the same, but music is in this weird world where we charge less and less for offering more and more. And there’s a weird term that statisticians get a woody over here called hedonic pricing. Right? Not hedonistic pricing. That’s the cost of your drugs and the disco era, which fluctuate with inflation, but hedonic pricing.
If you think about cloud computing, a unit of cloud computing should half every three years according to Jeff Bezos. So how do you adjust for the fact that you can get more and more for less and less, and weirdly by commoditizing music, we’re doing the same thing. We’re offering one war yet. We charge less and less, but it’s a really successful model.
Then you look across the fence. Look at video streaming. I just looked at my bank statement today, Netflix, $15.99 a month. Where did that happen? That was $7.99 when I signed up and I’m paying for Disney+ and Amazon prime and my BBC license fee.
Harry Truman said, “find me an economist who’s got one arm.” Because we get away with saying “on one hand, this and on the other hand that.” On one hand we are clearly not doing enough on price. On the other hand, we’ve got a success in the music business. That’s the envy of everyone else. And I’m not quite sure how to weigh it up, but I did want to initiate that debate on price, which thankfully, thankfully we did that really well.
The Fear Of Going First
MIKE: I’d like to follow up with that question. You’ve been inside the boardrooms. Is there a fear of just going first? There doesn’t seem to be a fear with the video streamers. Is that what’s going on? Is there sort of just this group mentality that, oh, we can’t be the first to do that? Or why is that?
WILL: It’s strange. It’s a good question. You make me think of petrol pricing, which in this country, at least is a big talking point. We never used to discuss the cost of a gallon. Boy, do we discuss it now? But there was that big fear of like, which petrol station was gonna raise price first, cuz it’s just petrol. And you could always go to the other station, which raise these prices last. And I think there may be an element of that, but equally, if we go back to this Wall Street language of the addressable market. At least in Britain, half the addressable market is now paying for a streaming service. So how do you get the other half in or do you just wanna stop there?
So if you want to get the other half in, well, a couple of observations, clearly they’re the least willing to pay cuz they haven’t paid yet. And two, the best way to get ’em is not to raise prices. So I think there’s a combination of who moves first, but equally, when does this party create a hole? When do we go from the herbivores that we’ve had for the past 10 years, where we can all grow our services together to carnivores where the only way I can grow my subscription base is by stealing some of yours?
I think when you make that switch, this whole pricing debate becomes really spicy.
On Apple Music & Dolby Atmos
MIKE: Interesting. I’ve been on something completely different. How do you think about higher quality audio offers and spatial audio like Dolby Atmos for the health of this business? Both Jay and I are huge fans of, of immersive music. Curious, get your thoughts.
WILL: So hat tip to Apple Music, the whole team there, and the teams at Dolby. I love what they’ve done. I switched, I am now a fully paid-up member of Apple Music’s community and my litmus test speaks to my older brother, Tom, who’s far brainier than me and gets this stuff far better than me, but I’m not the techy on sound quality. I listen, I listen to the terminology. My litmus test is to go to the most important album of all time, which is Miles Davis “Kind of Blue” play “Flamenco Sketches” and ask, can you hear them brush the high hat? Because in that recording, that’s a key part of the composition. Now brushing the high hat for me is a sound that gets lost through compression sound that gets lost through dilution of sound quality.
And when you switch to Apple Music and you listen to kind of blue, yes, you can hear that brush and you can hear that high hat loud and clear. And that for me, makes me switch, you know, that is a value proposition, which I am not gonna turn a blind eye to, I got to move where the sound quality is. And also, and you know, what Apple’s doing in spatial will do is just part of the story what’s going on in that space is really exciting, but there’s a psychology of sound quality. It can only get better. There’s a network effect. The creator has to work with spacial audio. The consumer gets to experience spatial audio. And the question I would love to ask is, check this one out, Jay, for you, sir. If you’re consuming music with a superior sound quality, if you’re engaging in a spatial audio experience where the creator developed the tools, consumers enjoying the tools does that you make you return to the album as a body of work?
So, what we’ve seen streaming do is to shake the album up. And I just wonder whether there’s something in there which says now the sound quality can enhance the intimacy is there, the feeling is there. That this collection of 10 songs ordered in this way will be consumed in the way that those artists who spent two years in the studio wanted it to be consumed again?
That’s part of the magic of music. That’s kind of been lost in the streaming revolution and spatial might help bring it back.
JAY: Mike and I had the pleasure of spending some time in the studio with Greg penny. Who’s been doing these Dolby Atmos mixes for Elton John, the Beatles and so on.
And I, I gotta tell you, the first time I went in, we listened to [The Beatles] “Here Comes The Sun.” I, I had tear streaming down my face. I’d never heard anything like that. I could hear when George would go and take a breath before he would sing a line. And I, I was sold, 100%. I think that [Atmos] is one of those things that, when people hear it, They get it. But it’s difficult to convey that to the average music fan that you need something better. A lot of folks are okay with just the radio in their car. It, that song sounds good. It’s free. I’m listening. That’s that’s great. But I think with Doby Atmos, spacial audio, you need to hear it to really appreciate it and understand it.
So what I wanted to ask you about is, is there a value to that? Should spatial audio, lossless audio or these other newer formats that focus on quality, should they cost more or do you think that should be the basis of how streaming moves forward?
WILL: Well, I want to quickly tackle lossless audio because I think that’s a game of catch up, which is lossless audio solved the storage problem, which previously couldn’t Be solved. So that’s not necessarily an advancement. That’s just a way of, we can now work out how to get larger files into your Apple Music collection that we previously could work out. So we just caught up on history effectively.
Spatial is where the game is and I argue, no, because of the network effect that is you need more creators to adopt spatial audio for more consumers to enjoy it. And more consumers, the more creators. How valuable is having one telephone? Low. How valuable is having two phones and say more, three? Even more. So that network effect for spatial to reach its potential. I don’t think you want price to be a prohibitive factor in that one. You want it to be a conducive factor, fostering factor to the success of spatial audio as well. Then, just to wheel back, I do think this is big, Jay. I really do. I think, you say some people are just happy with FM radio in their car and that’s it. We’ve all got artists that we love. We might just be that person who’s happy with some correctly FM radio in their car, but we have artists that we love. We all want that intimate relationship with those 1, 2, 3 artists that we love. I mean, weirdly, and hopefully this doesn’t sound a bit too wacky to you, but if you think about the rap band, A Tribe Called Quest, I’ve always loved “Rest In Peace.” God bless his soul, Phife Dawgs’ ability to rap the way he phrases. Because what you hear when he raps is his throat. It comes from the throat. Most rappers don’t do that. He raps from the throat and I would love a spatial audio experience of rediscovering Phife Dawg through that enhanced high quality to get to what that guttural property that made his rap so unique. And then if I love it, I want all my friends to love it too. And that’s the network effect kicking in right there. So we all have our little niche, you know, guilty secrets, guilty pleasures in music, but we are gonna share them when we get closer to them through spatial. I’m really strong on this.
MIKE: Of course the challenge we have, and Jay and I both seen this firsthand is that if there’s no premium price effect for these, like let’s say spatial audio, who’s paying for those remixes? Who’s paying for that engineer to go back and record it? And that’s the rub that we’ve seen, which is. Yes, it’s great, but nobody wants to step forward and pay for it within the label groups. Why are we going back and spending more money on this when the return isn’t gonna be great? And I’m sure Jay and I both will say the same thing. It’s so disappointing to hear that. And I hope that that doesn’t basically kill spatial audio.
WILL: It’s interesting. I wouldn’t wanna get into weeds of who picks up the bill. Like who pays for your company offsite? I guess it’d be a silly type of debate there, but yeah, at the consumer end, If you had to pay more for it, I think we’d have fewer people engaging in it and it’d be net or on balance. It’d be detrimental to the pickup. we’re in the early stages of this. And my belief is it can go to mass adoption. And because of that belief, I’m not sure the pricing debate should be seen as one, which could restrict the adoption of this.
“believe in better”
I don’t want to quote a 90 year old Australian Rupert Murdoch here, but when he launched sky in this country, he had this great slogan. And by the way I don’t pay for Sky, I never have. We had this great slogan called “believe in better.” Three words, “believe in better.” And I wanna pull that up here because you’ve got to with the state of music today, believe in better. We’ve done great things in 20 years, we’ve come out of the staring into the abyss with Napster, set off in this recovery and publishing catalogs are going for 23 times multiples. Glory days, glory days, but you’ve got to believe in better.
And if I can’t hear the drummer on the kind of blue brush, the high hat and Spotify, I’m switching, cuz I gotta hear that. I gotta believe in better. And I think that’s what you’re gonna start seeing. That’s where you’re gonna see sound quality really start to kick in terms of mass adoption, believing in better.
JAY: As we wind down here, Will. I want to make sure that we touch on Tarzan Economics. It’s something that Mike and I have talked about on this podcast quite frequently, so our listeners are aware of it. But I would love for you to talk a little bit about Tarzan Economics, what it’s all about and how you came about writing that book.
WILL: I’ll tell you exactly. And I’ll also tell you some of the interesting audiences it’s picked up as well. The book captures my passion. My passion is to teach economics, not just to economists, but my dad, who taught me economics when I was 11 years old, said the secret is teaching to an audience who [A] doesn’t think they’re going to understand it. [B] doesn’t want to understand it, but most importantly, [C], HAS To understand it.
“Music you join, you stay. Newspapers, you join, you deliberately hop off to hop back on again”
I remember as an 11-year-old kid, that one really hitting home. If you could master that art, you know, what could you do with it? And the book allows me to do that at scale. And it’s simply to say that music was the first to suffer from digital disruption, 10 years fighting change post-Napster, first to recover from digital disruption, 10 years embracing streaming, seeing the recovery, which is the envy of everyone else. There’s got to be a handful of lessons that I can tease out from that journey that are relevant to everyone else. I tease out eight, eight principles and pivoting through disruption, eight principles on letting go of the old vine and embracing the new. One of my favorite ones is, to quote that 90 year old Australian Rupert Murdoch to get to work with NewsCorp and the newspaper industry, why they’ve got a Napster moment on their hands. And they asked me, what’s the point where we realized we have to let go of our old way of doing things. I mean, to subscriber numbers are fraction of what music’s achieved. Prices are in freefall, churn’s through the roof. If you look at newspaper models, you use, understand one thing, churn, churn, and churn, and a bit more churn.
It is churn rampant in that world.
Music you join, you stay. Newspapers, you join, you deliberately hop off to hop back on again. So the example I gave them, and it’s a very British example and it involves public transport. So people in California may struggle with this one, but we’ll stick with it. But the example I gave was Kings cross station, which is in North London, not far from here, actually. And up until 2013, 2014, it was, forgive my language, a bit of a shithole. Okay. A rat’s den. You know, around the back at King’s Cross station you’d find pedophiles, prostitutes and politicians, often in the same car! So when we rebuilt King’s Cross Station, not only was it the biggest train station in great Britain, but it had the biggest Concourse in great Britain. What I found interesting is there was no space for news agents. Wait, wait, wait. There was space for selling posh Belgian chocolates but nowhere to sell newspapers and magazines. So if you are in THAT business, that right there is a Napster moment because since the time of the Victorians we built train stations, which are hip to hip, side by side newspaper souls. You’re gonna sit on a train for three hours? You buy something to read. We don’t buy something to read anymore. It’s already on a piece of glass called our smartphones. So I just give you that as an example of, you know, everywhere you look, you’re seeing Napster moments hit industries, which hit our industry that we know and love, 20 years ago.
JAY: Well, as we wrap up here, where can people learn more about Bubble Trouble, Tarzan Economics, your writing, your work… where should people go to learn more about you?
WILL: two homes, Tarzan Economics.com. A beautiful website, all credit to the designers there. And that’s a great resource for executives but especially… When my website designer said to me, okay, you’re gonna build your first ever website. What’s your audience? Students. So any students listening to your show, of which I know there are many, an amazing resource there where you’ll find past publications, relevant data points if you’re doing a thesis or you have to convince your CFO of a business case. They’ll be using that website. That’s gonna help you do your do your job. So that’s really important to give to the audience. So TarzanEconomics.com. And then if you flip it over to the BubbleTroublepodcast.com, that’s where you’ll find the podcast currently chewing into the subject to the metaverse. The most recent episode is with Yoshio Osaki from IDG consulting.
It’s just a beautiful layout of how, what the metaverse is, but also, and this is the key bit. What the metaverse isn’t. we want to cover both sides of that coin. And again, if that can help educate our audience, help involve bubble troubles in the future. Nevermind the one that we’re stuck in right now, then that’s a good thing, too.
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