It’s not product or price, it’s exclusivity: the current trend in music streaming

The US music world experienced to great upheavals during the past few days: the death of Prince and the release of Beyoncé’s new album, Lemonade. Both served to highlight a trend in the digital music business that has been gaining ground during the past year: big artists, with control of their music and their release process, are granting certain music services exclusives, both for streaming and for digital download sales. Prince allowed his music to be streamed only on Tidal but sold it on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon. Beyoncé launched Lemonade for streaming exclusively on Tidal for 24 hours and then only offered it for sale only on iTunes and Amazon.

This isn’t new. Taylor Swift pulled 1989 from all streaming services when it launched but later befriended Apple Music, the only streaming service to include 1989. Apple is also where she later exclusively launched a new movie and video, much to the chagrin of her fans. Adele chose not to stream her album 25 anywhere (and it paid off.) Kanye and Rihanna also released their new albums exclusively on Tidal, the former now on Spotify, Apple and Google despite Kanye promising Tidal exclusivity forever.

Beyonce in Lemonade Source:  Billboard

Beyoncé in Lemonade
Source: Billboard

Obviously Tidal’s goal with these exclusives is to sign up more subscribers. That can partially be verified with the increase in app downloads. As of two days ago, Tidal was the number one app on iTunes. However, app downloads don’t all convert to paid subscriptions and it’s hard to see long time Spotify subscribers abandoning their playlists on Spotify just to stream Beyoncé. It’s also hard to see iPhone fans abandoning Apple Music for Tidal. Finally, it’s also unlikely that listeners opt for paying for two streaming services.

This leaves Beyoncé fans with two options: buy the album outright on Amazon or iTunes or pirate the album. Buying the album on Amazon allows users to upload MP3 files to other music services. It’s a bit of a process but doable. It will be a sad if the result of the exclusivity play is just a return to piracy, but that’s exactly what some fans are doing. Lemonade is now the fifth most illegally downloaded album on The Pirate Bay.

It doesn’t seem like listeners are happy with this trend. Jonathan Prince of Spotify said it best: “We believe long-term exclusives are bad for artists and they’re bad for fans. Artists want as many fans as possible to hear their music, and fans want to hear the music they’re excited about—exclusives get in the way of both.”

Then again, maybe all these exclusives are neither boosting Tidal’s paid subscriptions nor driving fans to pirate the album. Maybe they’re all just like this guy, signing up for his fourth Tidal free trial.

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