The LA Times has run an interesting feature on Lucian Grainge and if, as the head of Universal Music Group, he can “save the music business” (by which they mean “the record business”). What is most interesting, however, is a side note about Rob Wells, head of digital at UMG, presenting on a subscription service that would allow unlimited downloads for $20 a month. The LA Times doesn’t mention it but we at Music Ally have long memories and recall Universal getting in early with something similar way back in 2009 – offering an unlimited download model in the UK with ISP Virgin Media. A deal was apparently signed but it never got off the ground, with other labels (notably some large indies) not being sold on the economics of the idea. That was five years ago in an age before Spotify had properly taken off and where the downloads market looked like it was never going to slow down. Except it did (in the US, notably) last year. The unlimited download concept is apparently being tested in an unnamed “European market ravaged by piracy”.
In the rest of the piece, Grainge talks of mobile pans in markets like Africa (with The Kleek) and also the need for the record business to work with the tech sector more closely. “A dozen entrepreneurs in the tech space — they’d be like Irish coffee…. The cream would hit the whiskey and the coffee really nicely,” Grainge said in a bizarre simile. “Technology and talent: That’s what I’m trying to do. Merge talent and technology.” But it’s the unlimited download service idea that we keep thinking back to. It’s not a new idea (as the Virgin Media deal reveals) and it is working on a price point that is around twice what a Spotify/Rdio/Deezer/etc. subscription would cost each month which makes us wonder why now is the time to launch it and who the audience might be. We have asked Universal for more details on the test service and what its findings were and will update if/when they get back to us.