Just when we thought the pollution of piracy and illegal downloading was on it’s way to murdering the music industry, along came streaming – sitting prettily, waiting for us to enter the all-access world of digital music at the click of a button. Oh, and a £9.99 per month subscription fee.
Not only has streaming saved the music business from the decline it was suffering, but the whole industry is on a solid road upwards, yet nobody can seem to pinpoint the exact direction in which it is heading. What we have entered now is ‘The Age of the Giants’, with the ruling platforms obtaining over 500 million customers worldwide and the revenue streams increasing accordingly. The time for ownership is fleeting, with the concept of buying something individual being totally unappealling. I mean, why pay £9.99 for a single album, when for that price I can have access to hundreds of thousands of albums, wherever I want, whenever I want, for a whole month. There’s no question about it, right?
Undoubtedly, the digital shift towards streaming does have it’s weaknesses; particularly, ensuring that the right people get paid for their works. In order for the movement to continue successfully and prosperously, it is essential that record labels build and strengthen their back end systems to ensure that payments are reaching the right people. But ultimately, the answer to this ‘Access vs Ownership’ debate cannot be settled by musicians, the rights holders or industry experts; the digital shift is a supplier led revolution, and in reality these struggles for the creators will not be paid much thought to. It is therefore the responsibility of the industry to mould itself around the wants of the consumer and look to the ‘giants’ of this field to be the innovators.
In order to develop an understanding of this, it is effective to apply the all-access and subscription model to other areas of the entertainment industry and see how it fits.
A suitable translation to music streaming services in the world of film and televison, is Netflix.
Netflix currently obtains over 75 million subscribed users, which has enabled them in recent years to push up their subscription fees, by playing on a concept of an individuals safety in their habits. Despite Netflix originally appealling to a wider community because of their range of pre-released films and TV series’, Netflix has grown to become a competitor in the current televison market. This is solely due to the unprecidented success of the ‘Netflix Originals’ catalogue. Whether it be Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black or more recently, The Crown; these are the shows that seem to have people hooked, and that smother your Twitter and Facebook feeds day in, day out.
Now, before I lose your attention and you head off to watch the latest episode of House of Cards, I urge you to consider how this business model and the re-shaped identity of services like Netflix can apply to the music industry. For now, Spotify and other streaming platforms are all-access services to more music than we can imagine, on demand at the click of a button. Well, what if this model changed? What if an element of exclusivity was applied? What if streaming sites, like Spotify, grow to become the record labels of the next generation?
By applying the Netflix model, you can see how it would be possible for services such as Spotify to eventually have their own ‘originals’ artists. Artists which are only accessible via Spotify. This may seem like a far-fetched concept for now, but industry specialists are certainly starting to catch on. Mark Mulligan (Music Industry Blog)** recently wrote ‘But what Spotify can do that incumbent labels cannot, is understand the artist and music fan story right from discovery through to consumption.’ Although Mulligan is insightful in his comments, he fails to recognise that Spotify is not a ‘giant’ in this market; Spotify is an independent service, and therefore relatively vulnerable. The real players in this game are going to be the likes of Apple Music, the newly launched Amazon Music and potentially Facebook, should they choose to step up to the mark.