Three Simple Steps To Fix The Record Business in 2016… Windows, Windows, Windows…

windows

This time last year we correctly predicted the restructuring of at least one major label group when we asked the question, “Who will be the First Fired Label Execs over Spotify Fiasco & Cannibalization?“. It didn’t take long for us to find out, “It’s Just Math : Digital Music Execs Exit, But will the Pivot to Paid Subs Be Enough To Save The Record Biz?” We’re still not sure that even paid subscription streaming actually works in the long term, but we know for sure that unlimited free streaming does not!

What a difference a year makes. What a difference Taylor Swift makes. What a difference Adele makes.

Going into the next year our prediction is that the power of windows can not be overstated as the leading solution to the problems faced by the record industry. Effective windowing has always been a part of the economic life cycle of every album release. The physical singles sales business (ya’ll remember 45 prm records, right?) – well, that was largely a loss leader to boost singles chart positioning that combined retail and radio reports.

In every record store there was the “hit wall” of discounted new releases to encourage higher volume sales. Every store stocked a robust variety of titles across different genres and price points comprised of front line titles, mid-line titles, budget line titles, and at the end there was the cut-out bin. Also, let us not forget the “11 records for a penny” record clubs advertised in magazines.

Those, my friends, are windows. Those who are advocating against windows are probably too young to know better or have been lead around by the nose by some digital snake oil salesman protecting their own interests.

This is not a philosophical discussion. This is financial reality. Respected stock analyst Robert Tullo who is the Director Of Research at Albert Fried & Company says this:

Longer term IP Radio and Spotify are good annuity revenue streams and great promotional tools. However, we believe the system works better for everyone when artists have the right to distribute their Intellectual property how they see fit.

Ultimately we think windows for content will form around titles that look much like the Movie Windows and that will be great for investors and the industry as soon as all these so called experts get out of the way and spot trading fashionable digital dimes for real growth and earnings.

Mr. Tullo is correct. Not only will artist (and rights holders) do better when they have the freedom of choice but so will the partner platforms. This is how it works in the film business. Every month the “virtual inventory” on Netflix is rotated. New titles come in, old titles go out. If you really, really, really want to see something right now, you have to rent it or buy it via a transactional stream or download. The record business will benefit from the same models and strategies. Windowing works. Period.

See here’s the thing… If these new digital platforms are so great for artists, why wouldn’t artists want to participate on them?  The benefits would be self evident? If the product that Spotify, Pandora, YouTube (and others) are offering is so good for artists, why are these companies so afraid of artists and rights holders opting out? Maybe, just maybe these platforms are not offering the type of value that their suppliers find meaningful?

It really speaks volumes when a business model is so bad that one of  the essential features for survival of the company is to deny its suppliers the option to fairly negotiate their participation or have the ability to opt out. In the old neighborhoods that was known as a protection racket, or extortion.

Silicon Valley didn’t invent the freemium, they’re just doing it wrong. Really wrong. Horribly wrong.

Let those who want to give away their work freely do so, but also allow those who would rather opt out the ability to do so. If artists find value in the freemium tier, and they may well as they always have, then let them chose how to best utilize that option. Musicians pioneered the freemium model often using street teams to canvas concerts by giving away cassettes to fans of similar music.

If digital platforms allowed artists to use their technologies creatively, everyone might be pleasantly surprised how much better (and more profitable) things would work out.

Watching Pandora lose $5 billion in value in a year becomes a punch line when they believe they are better suited to dictate to artists how to best communicate with their own fans. It is indeed interesting to see Pandora admit what we’ve been saying for years, unlimited, ad-supported free streaming unsustainable. No Kidding. Here it is from Brian Andrews, CEO of Pandora:

“This gray market is unsustainable. If consumers can legally listen to free on-demand music permanently without converting to paying models, the value of music will continue to spiral downward to the benefit of no one.”

Of course what makes this comment most interesting is that Pandora is entering the crowded field of on demand streaming with it’s purchase of the failed Rdio. Pandora now has to compete with Spotify’s very large free tier of unpaid and entrenched users. Migrating those users to a new on-demand streaming platform will be a challenge (ask Apple and Tidal), and even more so as artists and labels grow tired of subsidizing these horribly flawed business models.

Here’s three uses of freemium streaming most artists (and rights holders) would probably embrace if given the choice.

1: The Hit Single

– Using the freemium platform to launch a single to gain ubiquitous awareness of a new album release. This is what both Taylor Swift and Adele did and the results speak for themselves. More artists would probably embrace releasing one or two songs or singles from an album on freemium tiers. With the artists support this becomes far more valuable than extorting the them into releasing their entire album on a platform they feel devalues their work.

BONUS: What if Adele made an official playlist of her favorite songs, leading with her new single? How much added value does an artist of this caliber bring to a platform when they feel they are being respected and valued? Answer, ALOT.

2: The Focus Track

– Not everyone has a hit single, but most artists have a focus track from their album. Like the hit single, these artists would embrace the opportunity to be discoverable and to build an audience of new fans. Developing artists are the most eager to try new opportunities because the have the most to gain. If digital streaming platforms worked with artists in a meaningful and respectful way, the mutual benefits could be huge for everyone.

3: Rotating Inventory Management

– By adopting a Netflix like inventory management of monthly rotating titles on the freemium (or even paid subscription) tier more artists might feel compelled to be more engaged. Rotating inventory management is a smart way to keep users and fans engaged as old titles rotate out and new ones in. This simple trick restores a great deal of the consumer engagement that is a part of discovery, and promotion.

Of course, the goal of every freemium model is to lead to more paid revenues in higher value products. Working together with artists and rights holders the future of streaming distribution could be very bright. But to get there we need to let go of Stockholm Syndrome. the old neighborhood protection rackets, bullying extortion threats and just plain bad business models.

There is a lot that can be done in the world of streaming. Streaming is not bad, it’s just a technology. Free streaming and subscription streaming both have their place in the ecosystem. What is bad are the exploitative business models, lack of transparency and devaluation of the artists work. These are fixable issues that have nothing to do with technology, just a lack of common and business sense.

Quoted: Pandora CEO says free on-demand music streaming is bad | Silicon Beat

“This gray market is unsustainable. If consumers can legally listen to free on-demand music permanently without converting to paying models, the value of music will continue to spiral downward to the benefit of no one.”

Brian McAndrews, CEO of Pandora, in an op-ed published by Business Insider Tuesday.

Where have we heard this before? Now we wonder how long it may be until they acknowledge that Ad Funded Piracy Is Big Business?

READ THE FULL STORY AT SILICON BEAT:
http://www.siliconbeat.com/2015/12/02/quoted-461/

 


 

 

Streaming Is the Future, Spotify Is Not. Let’s talk Solutions.

 

Why Spotify is not Netflix (But Maybe It Should Be)

 

It’s Just Math : Digital Music Execs Exit, But will the Pivot to Paid Subs Be Enough To Save The Record Biz?

Mike Doughty Responds to John Seabrook at The New Yorker about Adele Doing Windows…

Musician Mike Doughty takes on the New Yorker’s anti-artist editorial “Who Is Really Paying for Adele?”. Seabrook argues that somehow Adele is cheating fans by not giving away her new, historical, record breaking album.

Seabrook’s piece reads like it was written by the Spotify PR dept with lines like this “Could it be possible that the record business, pursuing a strategy of inflating sales by keeping an album off Spotify, Apple Music, or Deezer, is choosing short-term profits over long-term growth?” No. It’s actually long term growth that is the goal of windowing. Variable pricing and pricing elasticity works for most business and has historically worked well for the record industry as well (see below).

Doughty’s response from Facebook can be seen here. You can share it directly via this link:
https://www.facebook.com/mikedoughty/posts/10154544998845200

 

DoughtyVSNYTimes

What is of particular interest is that it is people like Seabrook who chastise artists and the music industry even in the the light of Rdio going defunct and owing $220m to creditors and labels! Somehow the bad bubble math of Silicon Valley is what artists should be striving for? No. Enough.

WINDOWING THAT WORKS FOR EVERYONE

So what does this mean for the non-superstar artists? Very simply, windowing works. Windowing works better when there is a reasonable amount of consistency. Our friends in the film business have been highly effective at windowing for decades and there’s no reason why it can’t work similarly well for the record business.

Every new release should have the option to determine the release windows when the record is being set up. For example the default could be 0,30,60,90 day option for transactional sales, followed by 0,30,60,90 day option for Subscription Streaming prior to being available for Free Streaming.

Windowing is not new for the record business. The industry has never had pricing ubiquity across all releases, genres and catalogs. There has always been strategic and flexible pricing strategies to differentiate developing artists, hits, mid-line catalog, and deep catalog. An industry wide initiative to re-allign time proven price elasticity is the key to growing the business and developing a broad based sustainable ecosystem for more artists.

  • Windowing allows for Free Streaming to exist as a strategic price point.
  • Windowing allows for Subscription Streaming to exist as a strategic price point.
  • Windowing allows for Transactional Downloads to exist as a strategic price point.
  • Windowing allows for artists and rights holders to determine the best and most mutually beneficial way to engage with their fans.

Windowing is the key (as it always has been) in rebuilding a sustainable and robust professional middle class that will inevitably lead to more artists ascending to the ranks of stars. Some will become superstars and legends capable of creating the types of sales and revenues currently achieved by Adele, Taylor Swift and Beyonce’. To get there however we need to abandon Stockholm Syndrome and embrace windowing that works for everyone.

 

 

The problem is the music-streaming companies | The Hill – Paul Williams

Songwriters have a number of allies in the ongoing fight to update our nation’s horribly outdated music licensing laws. But after reading the recent post by CALInnovate’s Mike Montgomery (“Songwriters are fighting the wrong fight,” 10/5/15), it’s clear that he is not one of them. On what grounds can Montgomery, who represents technology industry interests, claim that he speaks on behalf of songwriters?

As a songwriter elected to represent the interests of ASCAP’s more than 550,000 music creator members, I find Montgomery’s arguments absurd and grossly misleading.

READ THE FULL STORY AT THE HILL:
http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/technology/256247-the-problem-is-the-music-streaming-companies

Transparency Starts Upstream for Streaming Royalties | HuffPo – Chris Castle

We’ve often noted that if the economics at the top of the waterfall are near zero dollars (in microcents) then what trickles down will not get any better…

We’ve seen stories recently about various successes for artists in negotiations with major labels about “transparency” in the payment of the artist’s share of streaming royalties received by record companies. This is great news of course, but the new buzz word “transparency” should be understood in context. There is nothing the digital services would like more than to deflect the ire of artists and songwriters who are enraged about minuscule royalties away from the services and onto record companies or music publishers.

Creators need to be alert that they are not being duped into a false deflection because even in the best case, record companies can only pay on the royalties they receive from services.

READ THE FULL STORY AT THE HUFFINGTON POST:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-castle/transparency-starts-upstr_b_8238934.html

Should take down mean stay down? EU’s Big Internet quiz leaks | The Register UK

Wha-wha-whackamole

Safe harbour’s takedown provisions mean that rights holders must play whackamole, as the black supply chain ensures the goods reappear in the shop window, usually the very next day. Rightsholders file millions of takedown notices with little effect. The BPI alone has filed 66 million with Google in the past year.

The clumsy YouTube deal with indies was never supposed to become public, but it simply made clear what everyone already knew: the platform held all the power, and takedowns were ineffective. But as one US legal expert told us, “limiting liability was never intended to be a shield for criminal behavior”.

READ THE FULL STORY AT THE REGISTER UK:
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/09/14/should_takedown_mean_staydown_eu_internet_probe_leaks/?page=2

Spotify Per Play Rates Continue to Drop (.00408) … More Free Users = Less Money Per Stream #gettherateright

Down, down, down it goes, where it stops nobody knows… The monthly average rate per play on Spotify is currently .00408 for master rights holders.

PerStreamAvg_Jun11_July15

48 Months of Spotify Streaming Rates from Jun 2011 thru May 2015 on an indie label catalog of over 1,500 songs with over 10m plays.

Spotify rates per spin appear to have peaked and are now on a steady decline over time.

Per stream rates are dropping because the amount of revenue is not keeping pace with the  number of streams. There are several possible causes:

1) Advertising rates are falling as more “supply” (the number of streams) come on line and the market saturates.

2) The proportion of  lower paying “free streams”  is growing faster than the proportion of higher paying “paid streams.”

3) All of the above.

This confirms our long held suspicion that as a flat price “freemium” subscription service  scales the price per stream will drop.  As the service reaches “scale” the pool of streaming revenue becomes a fixed amount.  The pie can’t get any larger and adding more streams only cuts the pie into smaller pieces!

The data above is aggregated. In all cases the total amount of revenue is divided by the total number of the streams per service  (ex: $4,080 / 1,000,000 = .00408 per stream). Multiple tiers and pricing structures are all summed together and divided to create an averaged, single rate per play.

The 1 Percent: Income Inequality Has Never Been Worse Among Touring Musicians… | Digital Music News

One of the mantra’s that we always hear about the internet and musicians is that the revenue has shifted from recording sales to live ticket sales. So the great accomplishment of the internet according to Silicon Valley wisdom (and Steven Johnson of the NY Times Mag) is that artists can hit the road. “The dream of the 90s is alive, the 1890s…”

Well, if you’re not an established hit artist, here’s how that is working out in the post-napster era. Oh, and by the way, songwriters don’t tour, record producers don’t tour, recording engineers don’t tour… well, you get the point. Here’s the stat as reported by Digital Music News.

Note that in 1982 almost 40% of the revenue was divided between the “bottom” 95% of artists, while in 2003 they received only 15% of all revenue.

Could it be that these top-grossing artists benefited from launching in an era when artists didn’t have to be in the top 1% to develop a healthy live following over years of touring?

READ THE FULL POST AT DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS:
http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2013/07/05/onepct/

Streaming Music is Ripping You Off | Sharky Laguna via Medium

A worthy read from Sharky Laguna on how streaming music has disconnected fans from bands.

You Are Worthless

Imagine a hypothetical artist on a streaming service. Which do you think that artist would rather have: 10,000 fans who stream a song once, or one fan who streams it 10,001 times? Seems obvious, right? 10,000 fans is much better than one fan! But the Big Pool method, which only cares about the number of clicks, says the single person is worth more!
Ass-Backwards

This is bad for the artist, but astoundingly it’s even worse for streaming services: if each subscriber is paying $10 a month then those 10,000 subscribers would generate $1.2M in annual revenue, while the single user only generates a measly $120. Clearly the services benefit from getting more subscribers, not more streams, so why are they incentivizing streams and ignoring subscribers?

READ THE FULL POST AT MEDIUM:
https://medium.com/cuepoint/streaming-music-is-ripping-you-off-61dc501e7f94

Streaming “Transparency” and the 70% Black Box Lie… The Solution Is #gettherateright

The argument goes something like this…

Streaming companies are paying 70% of their revenue but artists are not getting paid enough. This must be the result of record labels and rights holders not passing on the right amount to artists.

The first question is, how do we know that streaming services are actually, really paying 70% of their top line gross revenue to rights holders? We know what the revenue of a transaction is on iTunes, because it is factually transparent – it is the list price being charged. We all know this, and we can all verify this. A $9.99 album on iTunes pays out $7.00, or 70%. Same thing for a $.99 song that pays out $.70, that’s also 70% of revenue.

But when if comes to streaming services however we do not know what the revenue is that should be credited to artists and rights holders. This is what is actually of concern. There is a big black box at the top of the waterfall from which all other money flows downstream.

So if streaming services are paying 70% of revenue, what exactly is that revenue? Let us see it. So here we are with the issue of transparency. If we can’t actually see or know what that number is then yes, the low payouts are very much of concern and have very little to do with intermediaries.

We can disagree about how the 70% of revenue is passed onto artists from iTunes and other transactional sales. But one thing is clear, we all understand the transparent economics of how much money is generated on each transaction. This is not so with streaming. So without transparency at the top of the waterfall, everything that follows is suspect.

More importantly, and more to the point, if there are established retail and wholesale rates for each stream, the calculations become immediately transparent in the same way they are with Itunes. See, the issue here is not what is going on downstream, but rather what is happening at the top of the waterfall.

“WE HAVE A MONETIZATION PROBLEM”

The truth is by now (and everyone should be able to agree on this), we know that streaming creates too little revenue relative to the value of the product. In other words the product is being sold to the consumer for less than the cost that it takes to create and produce it, and still remain sustainable.

In simple terms this is expressed as selling a Porsche for one dollar. It doesn’t matter how many Porsche’s you sell for one dollar while paying out 70% of the revenue, there will never be enough money to actually pay for the cost producing the car. Porsche’s, like professional music are expensive to produce. Despite the advances in recording technology, it is he cost of human labor that is the most important in the value chain.

This is the economics of music streaming in a nutshell, but with one added twist. The Porsche may be sold for one dollar one month, and be sold for only eighty cents the next month, and maybe the month after that sold for a dollar and ten cents. This is because of the fixed (and unsustainable) revenue pool that is divided by the total number of plays.

The common sense solution would be to establish a fixed per stream rate at each platform. This is the most simple way to encourage transparency and fairness as the revenue generated per stream can be transparently and easily calculated from top line data – no more black box at the top of the waterfall. The funny thing is, the people shouting the loudest for transparency also seem to be the most opposed to the easiest solution. Why is that?

So, if we are to have conversations about transparency let’s at least be clear about what it is that we actually need to see.