Something you won’t hear very much at a music-industry conference in 2019: people talking about piracy. Something you will hear a fair bit: people talking about how streaming has successfully seen off piracy as an existential worry for the industry. No wonder the ‘value gap’ has been a much more prominent debate among rightsholders and their representative bodies for some time now: what keeps them up at night is more likely to be the competition for music subscriptions posed by free streaming on YouTube. And, as it turns out, Spotify too.
“The main issue here is not piracy. It’s how to convert people from free YouTube and Spotify accounts to premium services,” is how Enzo Mazza, boss of Italian music body FIMI, put it in an interview with TorrentFreak on Friday. “Italy is a country where the ‘culture of free’ is radicated [firmly established] and it’s not easy to drag people into a subscription model… Conversion rates are still below the global average and this is a major challenge for the industry. We are urging in particular Spotify to do more in terms of promotional campaigns in order to engage new premium customers.”
Calls for Spotify to ‘do more’ on conversions have been a familiar sound throughout the company’s history. They continue despite the fact that as of the end of March, the company’s conversion rate was just over 46% – a barely-imaginable percentage less than nine years ago (for example, check this CNET article from September 2010 talking about Spotify’s 7% conversion rate at the time: “That’s still too low for the labels. They want conversions to be somewhere in the 15 percent to 20 percent range…”)
That isn’t to say that Mazza doesn’t have a legitimate concern about how streaming is playing out in Italy in particular. In the last three years, the country’s recorded music revenues have (in order from 2016 to 2018, according to official figures) grown by 1.9%; shrunk by 3.9%; and grown by 2.6%. Its €228.3m of revenues in 2018 were barely more than the €227.3m recorded for 2015. Compare the last three years’ growth to the US (9.1%, 9% and 15%) or perhaps more relevantly to Spain (6.7%, 6.1% and 5.9%) and it’s easier to see why FIMI’s boss is unsettled, even if Italian resistance to music subscriptions isn’t solely Spotify’s problem to solve.
In separate Spotify news, it’s been reported that the company’s director of economics, Will Page, will step down later this summer. There’s no news on whether he has a new job lined up, but MBW reported that Page will be writing a book “which explains and examines disruption in various industries”. Given his history of exploring how the dynamics of music-streaming have affected countries like the Netherlands and Spain, perhaps Italy too might figure in the new project.