By David Flanigan (@DavFlan)
In the week of the initially Apple Music-exclusive release of Frank Ocean’s Blonde, Troy Carter, Spotify’s global head of creator services when speaking to Billboard deemed that streaming exclusives are “bad for artists, bad for consumers, and bad for the whole industry.” He went on to declare that Spotify will only ever have “inclusives,” rather than exclusives.
Four months prior, Jonathan Prince, Spotify’s global head of communication and public policy responded to the TIDAL-exclusive release of Beyonce’s Lemonade in an interview with Mashable, stating: “We believe long-term exclusives are bad for artists and they’re bad for fans… 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.”
Both are largely correct, of course, platform-exclusive album releases alienate fans and doubtlessly push many towards pirating the music they would otherwise pay for. Spotify, however, are as complicit as any when it comes to the current exclusivity war.
Perhaps, in two moments of selective memory, Carter and Prince neglected to allude to Spotify’s previous dabbles with exclusive releases, initially having exclusivity rights for (the admittedly much less anticipated and successful than Blonde, Lemonade or the vast majority of other recent Apple and TIDAL exclusive releases) 2015 Tyga project The Gold Album: 18th Dynasty. What is more likely is that they were toeing the party line of an attitudinising corporation who have been in damage-reduction mode since Taylor Swift’s well-publicised defection to Apple Music in late 2014.
To add further insult to injury, The Financial Times reported in March of this year that Spotify have secured major label deals for forthcoming high-profile releases that would be exclusive to their premium tier – allowing them to pay lower royalty fees per stream to these labels in return. By establishing themselves as players in the exclusives market that they have previously so vehemently pilloried, Spotify appear to be more than content to throw the music fans they have postured to for three years under the bus in order to combat their ballooning net losses.
Spotify’s 100m strong subscribers (50m paying the premium rate of £9.99 a month, 50m subscribing to the free service) far dwarfs Apple Music’s and TIDAL’s approximately 20m and 3m premium subscribers, respectively. As the runaway market leader in music streaming, were Spotify to make it financially sensible for artists and labels to make their music available on all platforms rather than signing exclusivity deals with Apple, or TIDAL (who offer the largest royalties to an artist per stream, estimated to be around three times that of what Spotify offer) exclusive releases wouldn’t exist.
TIDAL has long-since been marketed as the artists’ platform – the now infamous “#TIDALforALL” campaign depicting Jay-Z hosting a conference with Kanye, Beyonce, Daft Punk et al, demonstrated as much, and Apple Music’s model is an appropriate sidecar for the iTunes store. By only weakening what made their platform the most attractive of the three, it’s’ free tier, Spotify seeks to cement itself as the loss-leader that everyone uses, but nobody likes.