There’s lots of chatter this week about a new report examining Spotify’s impact on music sales and piracy. Published through the European Commission and written by Luis Aguiar and Joel Waldfogel, the paper examines data from 2013-2015.
In a nutshell, it concludes that Spotify does cannibalise download sales – “137 Spotify streams appear to reduce track sales by one unit” – but that the losses from these displaced sales are “roughly outweighed by the gains in streaming revenue”.
Much of the coverage of the report is based on its summary rather than diving in to its deeper economic analysis. That’s a shame because there’s some interesting information in there.
For example, the researchers’ finding that in one week in November 2014, Spotify’s top 50 tracks were streamed 247m times; its top 200 469m times; and with analysis of its payouts suggesting between 2.3bn and 3.2bn weekly streams at that time, this indicates that the top 50 accounted for between 7.7% and 10.8% of total Spotify streams that week. A useful glimpse at the service’s fat head and long tail.
The main conclusion, though, is that “interactive streaming appears to be revenue-neutral for the recorded music industry” thanks to the streaming revenues outweighing displaced sales. Here’s why this won’t settle many of the arguments raging around Spotify though: the report focuses on industry revenues rather than income for musicians and songwriters.
Spotify may be revenue-neutral in overall terms, but it’s how the streaming money is being divided that causes much the controversy. How are the splits between rightsholders and creators working; are the biggest, most global artists hoovering up a bigger share of the pie at the expense of emerging and niche artists; and are songwriters feeling the impact more than performers?
Understanding what streaming means for music industry revenues is still important, of course, which is why this research is welcome – although so is the disclosure that Waldfogel has served as a consultant to streaming service Pandora in the past.
It’s just important to remember that the impact of Spotify and its rivals on the music industry is not just about the overall size of the pie, but on how that pie is divided. As ever, more research is needed on that front.