The Taylor Swift pulldown is about free versus premium on-demand streaming


Taylor_Swift_-_1989It’s becoming much clearer what this week’s removal of Taylor Swift’s back catalogue from some streaming music services is all about.

The key point: Taylor Swift is not anti-streaming.

Her albums are still available on Rdio, Rhapsody, WiMP and Beats Music, to name but four services. And as far as we can tell, this isn’t a personal gripe between Swift and/or her label Big Machine and Spotify. Taylor Swift is not anti-Spotify, in that sense.

This dispute is about an issue we’re going to all be talking about a lot more in 2015: windowing, but not just between an album going on sale and becoming available to stream, but between an album being available as a premium stream for paying subscribers, and a free stream for everyone.

So it’s about whether streaming services are willing to make some albums only available on demand to their paying subscribers, and not to their free users. Spotify is maintaining a hardline policy on this – it won’t take an album unless it’s available to all its users – and that’s the sticking point with Swift, as it has been before with some other artists.

This is also why it’s not a sticking point for Rdio, Rhapsody, Beats and WiMP: the latter three are subscription-only services, while Rdio’s free tier is focused on stations – personal radio – rather than fully on-demand access.

Two key talking points for the coming months, then: first, will Spotify face growing pressure to change its policy, especially if more big artists demand it? We suspect that the questioning may shift a bit from ‘Was Taylor Swift right to pull her catalogue?’ to ‘Is Spotify right to fight the idea of premium-only albums?’

And second, how will YouTube’s upcoming music service – especially if it still has an “all your music on both free and paid tiers” licensing requirement – play into this debate? Bumpy times ahead, but a hugely important moment for musicians and the music industry.

As a postscript: it’s still a bit surprising that Taylor Swift hasn’t addressed the Spotify removal with her fans, putting her side of the story. But if the issue here is about paying for music – subscriptions, in this case – she did flag her intentions in advance with her Wall Street Journal op-ed piece earlier this year:

“Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.”

Stuart Dredge

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4 responses
  • The idea that subscription music/radio services will fund the majority of the music business isn’t accurate. 50% of AM/FM radio stations will be GONE by 2024 (Gordon Borrell analyst). That means a mass audience used to “free” (powered by advertising) will be migrating from FM to online. $16b-$20b in annual broadcast radio revenue will follow that migrating audience. Do the math. The future of recorded music monetization is selling audiences to advertisers. Minority of audience will pay subscriptions (Ex: current Spotify 40m users, 10m pay, the rest, ad-supported).

  • amanda raymond says:

    Actually RDIO seems to be free on the desktop now, prob not on tablets etc. They still have Taylor Swift’s back catalog for free customers but Pink Floyd’s is now only previews, not sure if that’s the case for paying RDIO customers.

    Going to be interesting to see on Monday if Pink Floyd’s new album is a premium only album or not

  • richard morgan says:

    taylor swift and the author are “spot-on” in their analysis of Spotify. the writers, labels, and artists are doing all the work and taking all the up-front risk, and the revenue stream from the on-demand-on-line streaming is nowhere close to the replacement cost of the art inventory being sold. the replacement cost of the artistic product inventory is much higher than the revenue generated. Even if Spotify gets is wish, it will soon be out of business. why? because, as always, the industry takes the cashflow from the existing art inventory (songs today) to fund the costs of creating the new art inventory for tomorrow (tomorrow’s song hits). if the industry cannot fund the cost of creating the new with the money earned by selling the existing, its only a matter of time before the whole industry stops. this has to- and will- get solved; and Spotify will not exist in its current form when it does. the sooner they and everybody else figures this out the sooner the industry- all of us- can implement a model that works for everyone. THANKS TAYLOR FOR LEADING THE WAY.

  • richard morgan says:

    leo decaprio makes a movie. it runs in the theaters for weeks. makes a sizable sum. then it moves to netflix, but purchase only. makes another decent payday. after a few weeks more, it moves rental. not as much money, but steady and a pretty good shelf life. after a long while it moves, in an edited version, to television. after a year or two it shows up on a free cable chanel on a saturday afternoon, where every eight minutes four commercials pop up. i watch the movie for “free”. if the movie is crap it moves from theaters to cable channel in a month or two. OK, fine.

    why should music be any different? if i want a hit song or album for free, i have to wait. if i want it now while it’s white-hot, i pay for the privilege. LET THE INDUSTRY DECIDE WHEN TO MOVE ALONG THE CHANEL. if a label or artist is too greedy or short sighted to move quickly from premium pay to ad-based, then the label and artist will suffer. the market will quickly clear and prices will adjust.

    treat music like movies? why not? put both on the internet and the business theory is the same. pay a premium to experience the art NOW, wait to pay less, or nothing. later…

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