Hands up who’s surprised that Coldplay’s new album ‘Ghost Stories’ wasn’t available to stream yesterday, on the day it went on sale. Thought as much.
The band’s last album ‘Mylo Xyloto’ was famously withheld from streaming for four months after its release, while their close relationship with Apple has more recently seen Coldplay debut songs from ‘Ghost Stories’ at the iTunes Festival in SXSW, then premiere the full album exclusively within iTunes.
As windowed releases go, it’s not a surprise at all. What’s more surprising, though, is Spotify’s response.
Yes, there’s a doleful official statement for journalists who ask – “Coldplay has decided not to make Ghost Stories available on Spotify and other streaming services. There are tens of millions of the the best music fans in the world using Spotify and we’re obviously disappointed at the band’s decision to withhold this album from them.” – but Spotify is also taking the new step of explaining to fans searching for ‘Ghost Stories’ on its service why it’s missing.
“The artist or their representatives have decided not to release this album on Spotify. We are working on it and hope they will change their mind soon,” is the message on Coldplay’s artist profile above the greyed-out track listing.
It’s not just Coldplay either. The same message appears for ‘Turn Blue’ by the Black Keys, and for Beyoncé’s eponymous last album, which debuted as a surprise release on iTunes last December, but has yet to be made available to stream.
It’s the first time Spotify has used this kind of messaging within its service to explain holdbacks to fans, although Music Ally understands that it’s still something that’s being tested, rather than standard practice for all missing albums on Spotify.
It’s a necessary move for Spotify, rather than just passive-aggressive posturing: telling users why a big album is missing is better than pretending it doesn’t exist. It’s a challenge for Spotify and its rivals alike though: the fact that big albums continue to go missing at launch.
Adele, Taylor Swift, Coldplay, Beyoncé… these are all exactly the kind of albums whose omission will irk the kind of mainstream music fans who hold the key to the streaming services’ future growth prospects.
Apple is stoking this fire by negotiating more pre-release streams of new albums tied to iTunes pre-orders, with Billboard claiming in January that Apple’s iTunes team had been actively encouraging labels to adopt a windowing strategy for big releases.
Being upfront with fans when albums are missing is a sensible tactic for Spotify, but its efforts will continue to persuade artists and labels that those big albums shouldn’t be missing in the first place.