Pinterest’s announcement yesterday that it’s launching “buyable pins” isn’t, on the face of it, a music story. It’s more about people being able to buy products that they see on the visual-discovery service.
“When you spot a Pin with a blue price, you’ll know you can buy it right from the app,” explained the company. People will be able to filter by price and colour – this is very much about physical products, from clothes to furniture – before buying with a credit card or the Apple Pay system.
What’s the relevance to Music Ally readers beyond the potential to sell artist merchandise and box-sets – which, by the way, there is quite a lot of potential for – through Pinterest?
Well, TechCrunch has an interesting take on the launch, noting that earlier this year, Pinterest started removing affiliate links posted by users – i.e. links to shopping sites that would give those users a cut of any sales. “So instead of bloggers earning money directly for inspiring a sale, Pinterest will earn money indirectly for transacting that purchase,” notes the site.
Curation is king, but the curators are being nudged out of making the money – both in terms of the money being spent on products through buyable pins, and the value their curation is bringing to Pinterest itself, which was valued at $11bn in March after its latest funding round.
And this dynamic is something worth talking about in digital music too – even if it’s possible to make more arguments for some streaming playlist curators getting value from building their audiences. Think about Spotify, and its increasing focus on programmed playlists.
Its in-house curators are rewarded with salaries, obviously, while labels running playlists derive value from their marketing potential – the ability to build an audience of tens or hundreds of thousands of listeners, and then seed new tracks to them. But for ordinary curators – Spotify users who’ve built up similarly-large audiences for their themed playlists – it’s harder to see the value.
Accepting money to include tracks on their playlists is extremely problematic, as we have reported recently. There’s no easy mechanism for easy (and crucially, transparent) sponsorship by brands either.
The nub of 2013’s Ministry of Sound v Spotify lawsuit was less about copyright, in truth, than it was about the lack of a business model for curation on Spotify. That remains the case, even if streaming services are less likely to face the backlash that Pinterest may encounter now following its buyable-pins launch.
Even so, 2015 might be time for the music services to consider, if external curators are adding value to their platforms, how they might share in some of that value – if only to stave off the regulatory worm-can of playlist payola. Perhaps there’s an argument that many of the best user-curators do it for love, not money. But the discussion is worth having nonetheless.