Analysis

Sony Music boss Doug Morris: ’In general, free is death’


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Universal Music boss Lucian Grainge has become the focus for the current industry debate about the value of free, on-demand streaming music. But what do his peers at other major labels think? Sony Music’s Doug Morris spoke out this week, and he’s another sceptic.

“Basically, I equate ‘free’ with the decline of the music business. Why should anyone pay for anything if they can get it for free? In certain instances, it’s worth a discussion. But in general, free is death,” he told Hits Daily Double. “Free has been way overdone, and the biggest culprit is YouTube, with their links to free sites. This has to be curbed if we’re going to have a successful business.”

Links to free sites? Morris is surely referring to YouTube’s parent company Google and its search engine, which has faced regular criticism from music rightsholders over its links to piracy sites. But less confusingly, Morris is keen for both Apple and Spotify to prosper with their paid streaming models. “I hope they both win. We’re counting on it.”

But back to YouTube: even without links to free sites, it’s currently a sensitive topic for a number of rightsholders. Ministry of Sound’s Lohan Presencer described it as “the elephant in the room” and called for its music content to be put behind a paywall in his recent Mobile World Congress panel.

Industry consultant Mark Mulligan joined the debate yesterday with a warning that “recalibrating” freemium streaming models can’t happen “until YouTube is compelled to play by the same rules as everyone else”.

The wider discussion point here, though, remains the fact that as things stand, freemium is what has delivered the music industry’s most successful paid subscription model – Spotify’s 15m paying users – with proof that premium-only models can drive similar numbers distinctly thin on the ground, even if there’s hope at senior levels of the major labels that Apple’s huge device reach can finally deliver that.

Stuart Dredge

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