Music-marketing firm Linkfire had a big announcement yesterday: it has a deal with Apple Music to provide more attribution data on what fans are doing on the streaming service after clicking or tapping through from artists’ smart-links.

“No more guessing about streaming performance and fan engagement,” as Linkfire explained it in an email to its users. “You can now match your off-platform campaigns with on-platform behavior and cut down on budget burners.”

There’s a catch. As Linkfire’s email explained: “Your Linkfire Insights page now features aggregate attribution data, updated daily, on fans’ aggregate streaming behavior on Apple Music. This data is available when Apple Music is placed #1 on your landing pages. In already existing boards and links, you can manually place Apple Music first to receive attribution data.”

Marketing agency Motive Unknown’s boss Darren Hemmings strongly criticised this condition on Twitter, shortly after the announcement.

“If true, that is some next-level strong-arming bulls**t right there. This should be illegal under anti-competitive behaviour laws,” he wrote. “This kind of thing is bad for everyone; don’t hold data to ransom.”

Marathon Artists’ James Farrelly followed up with another question: “What happens if we have them at #1 in some territories, but not all? Do we just see partial data or do we get locked out completely?”

Music Ally has contacted Linkfire for comment, and while we hadn’t heard back by the time we published this story, we will update it with any response.

It’s worth noting that since Hemmings’ tweets yesterday, the page on Linkfire’s Help Centre about the Apple deal appears to have been updated. Where it did say “Streaming numbers from Apple Music are available when Apple Music is placed #1 on your links and landing pages”, now it reads “Streaming numbers from Apple Music are available when Apple Music is placed #1 on your landing page links OR You drive fans directly to Apple Music using direct-to-service links.”

Hemmings has also published a blog post this afternoon setting out his concerns at more length. “Apple is placing artists and Direct-To-Consumer retail in the middle of its battle for dominance with Spotify,” he wrote.

“If artists dare to place a D2C store above Apple Music on Linkfire, they will not see valuable conversion data. The consumer doesn’t lose out here: they will still see the list of links, and if we’re being honest, the order in which they appear is unlikely to have much effect on what people click on. A Spotify user will click on the Spotify link, an Apple Music user on the Apple Music one and so on. The only victims here are the artists and their teams working to get the best possible results for a release.”

Linkfire has been working hard for some time to get more attribution data out of streaming services, to solve the ‘data gap’ where artists and marketers know how many fans have clicked through to a DSP, but not what they did after getting there. Its pioneering deal with Pandora, as well as partnerships with Anghami in the Middle East and Boomplay in Africa, have shown its ambitions.

At our recent Sandbox Summit conference, CEO Lars Ettrup predicted that within six months, Linkfire will be able to attribute half of its traffic. “We are seeing an incredible willingness from services and ticket providers to want to surface this data to everyone,” he suggested. “The goal of achieving 100% attribution is feasible in the very near future.”

His company deserves credit for bringing Apple Music in to play, and Apple Music does too for opening up its data. But it’s also right for marketers to challenge the top-placement requirement: it may not be an antitrust issue – although Spotify’s public-policy team’s ears will have pricked up at the news – but the fewer conditions attached to the opening-up of DSP data, the better.

For example, as Hemmings’ blog post points out: if Spotify opened up attribution data to Linkfire and other smart-links providers, but with the same demand for top-placement. Artists would be forced into deciding which service’s attribution data to miss out on. Data that, remember, concerns how their fans are streaming their music, after clicking on their social posts, marketing content and ads.

Making attribution-data available is an artist-friendly move by DSPs, but turning that data into a loyalty test to serve their own marketing battles is absolutely not.

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Stuart Dredge

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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