Both Apple and Tidal have been upping the stakes around exclusives this year in what we can crudely call an escalating Content War (with others like Spotify left to sit on the sidelines and hope the exclusive windowing period only lasts a few weeks).
Already this year we’ve had Rihanna, Kanye West, Beyoncé, Drake and Radiohead among the artists limiting their albums to certain services on launch – and the latest to throw their lot in with one partner (in this case Apple Music) it seems is Frank Ocean. He has been teasing his imminent new album for the past few days, including a live video stream on his website from what could be his studio or an art installation (with a prominent Apple Music logo in the top right of the screen being the giveaway as to who will get the album first). Speculation is that the album will arrive this Friday and that it will only be on Apple Music. “We believe long-term exclusives are bad for artists and they’re bad for fans,” said Jonathan Prince, global head of communication and public policy for Spotify, back in April. “Artists want as many fans as possible to hear their music, and fans want to hear the music they’re excited about – exclusives get in the way of both.” Of course, Spotify would take this stance when some of the biggest albums of the year were kept off it in their opening weeks (for Beyoncé’s Lemonade that continues to be the case); meanwhile both Tidal and Apple Music will point to spikes in users and subscriptions as proof of concept. While we can see this as something akin to an arms race, the background concern has to be just how many big albums are left to come out this year. Could the exclusive pickings start to become very slim indeed?