Tag Archives: iTunes

How Spotify can survive the size of Apple, Amazon, Google & YouTube

The streaming genie is out of the bottle. There is no going to back to CD sales or downloading as the primary model for music revenue. For industry leader Spotify, whose stock has dropped from a high of $196 in July to $120, more challenges lay ahead. 

Streaming may be acceptable to celebrity artists with CD sales and negotiating leverage, and who play concerts, but not for more mainstream musicians who have difficulty securing a record deal and receive pennies per stream.

With more than 87 million current subscribers and 191 million active users, Spotify appears to be well-positioned for success. Whether or not you believe that Spotify has gone from music industry slayer to savior depends on you ask and when you look.

The service survived the wrath of Taylor Swift and has settled a class action suit brought by musicians, including Cracker frontman David Lowery, publisher of The Trichordist, for $41 million. (More on how Swift is improving fellow artists streaming compensation in a future IP CloseUp.)

But if Spotify is going to bring the music industry forward it will need to show more than the ability to add subscribers. It must be able to work collaboratively with all recording artists, despite the adverse economics of the music business, and to become profitable in the not too distant future. 

Cash Out

Spotify (NYSE: SPOT) went public in March 2018 with a much-publicized offering that did not raise capital, but enabled some insiders, including investors like Sony Music and Warner Music Group, to take cash out and for the market to broadly value its model. The company’s offering price was $132 and had traded as high as $196.28 in July, but Spotify shares are down to about $120 (as of December 17), below its IPO price, an indication that its shares may not have been as accurately priced as initially believed, or that they can expect to struggle in a bear market.

To go public, Spotify executed an unusual move called a direct listing, forgoing investment-banking underwriters and opting not to raise any money for itself at this time. In the process, Spotify showed confidence in its future and saved tens of millions of dollars in fees while still giving its employees and early investors the chance to cash out at least some of their holdings without diluting the share price.

It’s not clear that streaming – and Spotify agreeing to pay higher royalties to some for their content – will save the music industry or earn the company a profit.

The Main Stream

Spotify was the first company to make streaming mainstream, a simple alternative to both the murky Torrent digital music piracy sites and the more expensive downloads model popularized by Apple’s iTunes.

The brainchild of Swedes Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, Spotify launched as a desktop application in October 2008 and quickly gained millions of users across Europe before spreading to the US.

Spotify represents hope for the patent community, where serial infringers use others’ inventions with much the same impunity that streaming services employ content

“A good example of a tech B-lister is Spotify, which appears to be winning its battle with its biggest suppliers but lives in perpetual danger of being steamrolled by a tech giant,” reported The New York Times.

Perhaps the clearest indication of the Spotify’s awkward status came from Randall Stephenson, the chief executive of AT&T. “Mr. Stephenson has been fighting to acquire Time Warner since November 2016 in an attempt to cobble together some combination of content libraries, mobile networks and advertising tech that is big enough to survive a battle with the Googles and Amazons of the world.”

This is a defining moment for Spotify and big tech. If content it to survive meaningfully, IP rights need businesses, executives and shareholders to step up and look beyond quarterly earnings.

When a $200 billion business like AT&T is jockeying for leverage against Netflix, Google, Apple, and others, how is a university start-up, independent inventor or musician going to compete?
Not easily. 

Yet to be Determined

Despite its subscriber base and public offering, Spotify is far from a financial success. Some believe that to do so it must turn against artists and song writers. That will do little more than make its competitors, especially Apple, look good. Microsoft is among the few players who are big and smart enough to acquire the streaming giant at the right price.

Like AT&T, Spotify’s ability to compete depends on how it fares against much larger, more powerful companies, some with only a passing regard for IP rights.

Leading technology businesses set the tone for how licensing is conducted and how creators are treated, and so far – as far as copyrights and patents are concerned – it has not been a very harmonious one.

Image source: spotify.com; statista.com; economist.com

Royalty rates paid musicians decline for some streaming services

When it comes to getting paid, the bigger streaming service is not necessarily better for most musicians and song writers.

While the revenue and market share have grown for the leading streaming services, some significantly, the royalties paid to artists have been declining.

According to a recent article in The Trichordist, a publication dedicated to the protection of artists rights in the digital age, streaming royalties paid to artists declined in 2017.

The blog took snapshots from a major indie portfolio for 2017, 2016 and 2013. It found that “when streaming numbers grow, the per stream rate will drop.”

This data set is isolated to the calendar year 2016 and represents a label with an approximately 150 album catalog generating over 115 million streams, a fairly good sample size. All rates are gross before distribution fees.

Spotify was paying .00521 back in 2014, two years later the aggregate net average per play rate dropped to .00437 in 2016, a reduction of 16%, reports the Trichordist. The current effective per stream rate at Spotify has now dropped to 0.00397, a reduction of 9% since last year. This a cumulative reduction of 24% since 2014, which is an average decrease of 8% a year of the per stream rate.

Business Model Questions

“If the music business could set a per stream rate that allowed revenue growth, proportionate to consumption growth that would be a much better model,” said David Lowery, editor of The Trichordist and leader of the band Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. Lowery teaches in the Music Business Certificate Program at Terry College of Business, University of Georgia.

A notable change from last year is that Pandora replaces YouTube with the greatest value gap of streams at 21.56% volume with only 7.86% of revenue. YouTube drops to 8.38% of volume with only 1.70% of revenue.

Indie Label Sample: 115 Million Streams

Top Players

Apple appears to be the lone streaming service that is growing both in market share and revenue, and is paying relatively high royalties. It accounts for 22.29% of the revenue on 10.48% of the streams, and pays approximately six-times the per-stream royalty rate of Pandora. (Apple’s iTunes is a direct purchase model, while Pandora offers a more radio-like format, which precludes on demand listener selection.)

More than 95% of the streams and 98% of the revenue were concentrated in the top ten companies. The top three, Spotify, Apple iTunes and Pandora, comprise about 80% of the streams for this representative catalogue and 82% of the total streaming revenue.

For The Trichordist‘s 2017 streaming sample, go here; 2016, here; and 2013 here.

Image source: thetrichordist.com

 

Musicians want fairer streaming fees; inventors want patent licenses

In a digital world, fair compensation for creative expression or new ideas, like music and inventions, requires more determination than ever.

Intellectual property piracy has become an insidious problem, affecting a wide range of  individuals and industries, including recording and technology.

The effect of low payment – as opposed to no payment – has been particularly harsh on recording artists. They have had the challenge of policing the frequently unauthorized use of their work, getting their music taken down (and kept down), and being paid fairly by valuable streaming services who claim that they are not profitable.

Spotify, Pandora, YouTube and others have made it difficult for artists to permanently take down songs and videos that they are not being fairly paid for or that should not have been posted in the first place. While fans may enjoy the mostly free access, it has made it extremely difficult for less well-known artists to survive in the industry. For most of the big names, the possible loss in recording revenue can be made up in performances and merchandising.

Musicians: Update the Law

Napster was a turning point.  Shut down by court order in 2001 after just two years of operation, the online service enabled MP3 files to be easily shared. The recording industry and artists had little choice but to respond by surrendering preventing the digital distribution of their work or accepting the poor terms – if they were even offered. Streaming services legitimized file-sharing. It’s been more than a decade since Napster was shut down, and artists and labels are finally fighting back about the meager pay rates for their material. They are demanding, among other things, that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) a 1998 law, be updated.

They want to change the law so that music and video streaming services will be required to remove permanently material that they are not authorized to provide. It will be interesting to see if Congress complies.

YouTube claims that it has paid out over $3b in royalties, although that amount was initially attributed to all of Google, YouTube’s parent company. Bank of America values YouTube at $80b, more than all but 66 of the S&P 500 companies. (An article from Bloomberg News is worth reading, here.)

Don’t get me wrong. YouTube is a convenient, well-organized service that offers consumers an affordable alternative to network and cable TV and iTunes.  It claims to have paid some 15 million content providers. But the-1x-1 question is what amounts and to whom?

Angry Headliners, Too

In an article in the The New York Times, “Music World Bands Together Against YouTube, Seeking Change to Law,” it was reported that while YouTube is a vital platform for promoting song and discovering new talent, “it has never been a substantial source of revenue and is a vexing outlet for leaks and unauthorized materials.”

Now, even highly successful artists like Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry and Billy Joel have signed letters asking for United States copyright laws to be changed.

It is no accident that recording and visual artists face similar obstacles as other IP holders – notably inventors and patent holders. Since passage of the America Invents Act, it has been anything but easy for patent holders to stop the unauthorized use of their invention rights, or to get fairly paid for them.

Consumers are Complicit

“New services and platforms are great for consumers,” says Johathan Taplin, a music and film producer who has worked with Bob Dylan and Martin Scorsese, “but our weak laws have allowed them to siphon revenue away for the underlying music, leaving song-writers, performers and the he whole industry choking on their dust.”

Taplin is Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. See Do you love music? Silicon Valley doesn’t.”

It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over

In 2015, after years of battling pirates, Prince, an innovator in controlling the distribution of his work, said in an interview that the Internet “was over for anyone who wants to get paid.”

Let’s hope that blatant disregard of the source of creative expression and new ideas will not continue unchallenged. For less well-known musicians and visual artists who depend on revenue from streaming and copyrighted songs as a means of survival the future may be a little less bleak. Young tech companies, inventors and universities, who are finding difficulty securing patent licenses have yet to turn the corner.

 

Image source: nytimes.com; bloomberg.com; BofA/Merrill Lynch Global Research


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