Adele’s latest album, 25, was released last Friday. In a decision similar to Taylor Swift’s decision last year to pull her album 1989 from Spotify, Adele and her label have chosen to not make her latest album available on popular streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.
I recently came across an article on the popular website Digital Music News called "Why I Will Not Buy Adele's new album 25", about why the author, Ari Herstand, feels like Adele is being greedy by removing her album from sites like Spotify and consequently Ari won't be buying it. You can read the entire article here if you’re interested. Essentially Ari's thesis is that streaming is here to stay, it’s what consumers want and that Adele is being greedy by trying to make extra money through CD and download sales instead of just giving the public what they want via sites like Spotify and Apple Play. WTF?!!
I agree with Ari in that consumers seem to prefer streaming over buying cds and downloads. No surprise there. But why wouldn’t they? Are consumers always right? I don’t think so, especially when what they want doesn’t really work out to be a viable business model for the majority of artists involved. I’d prefer that my local grocery store just gave me my groceries or offered me a free meal a day, but they probably wouldn’t stay in business that long if they did that. It’s really no surprise at all to me that consumers are choosing to not pay for music (or paying very little) over paying for music, but this is in no way an indication that this is a healthy move for the music industry. Of course people would rather have something for nothing.
Proponents of sites like Spotify point out that Spotify benefits artists more than it hurts them because it brings extra exposure and can increase ticket sales at concerts. I’m sure this is the case for some artists, but this still doesn’t mean it’s a good business model. I’m sure if pre-internet days, stores like Target and Best Buy just gave CDs away that artists would get a few more people to go to their shows. But they didn’t do that. Do you want to know why? Because that would have been stupid. So why is it a good idea now just because we have the technology to make giving art away easier? Now I realize with Spotify they’re not literally giving it away. They do collect some money and redistribute it to artists. But as we all know, for the vast majority of artists, it’s nowhere near the money earned from actually selling music via CDs and downloads.
Over the last couple years I’ve gone back and forth on my feelings about sites like Spotify. Last year I made a video where I sort of defended Spotify and urged musicians to give them a chance to grow and collect revenue. I argued along the same lines as Ari and basically said that consumers have spoken and this is where we’re headed. So instead of fighting it, let’s embrace it and make the most of this new business paradigm. Something like that.
But here’s the thing… none of this is set in stone. The music business is not set on some sort of pre-destined track from which there is no going back or changing direction. Just because we have technology that allows us to give our art away more easily than ever before doesn’t mean we have to. Just because consumers would prefer to get something for free or next to free doesn’t mean we have to give it to them. Just because the music business is in a hole doesn’t mean it has to stay there. We have to strike a healthy balance between promoting our art and selling it. Artists, as both Taylor Swift and Adele have demonstrated, don't have to stream their music. There's no one holding a gun to their heads.
The music industry is comprised of essentially three groups of people; artists, middlemen (record labels, Spotify, etc) and consumers of music. Each group is helping to steer the direction of the music business. We all have a hand on the wheel. To argue that consumers have the most important role in determining the future of the music industry is silly. If anything, the artists themselves should play the biggest role in how things play out. After all, if artists don’t have a viable way to make a sustainable income from their art, there isn’t going to be a whole lot of art being made. I’m both surprised and delighted at how much good music is still being made given the current state of the music industry. It truly speaks to the passion that musicians have for making and sharing their art.
Last year Taylor Swift decided to remove her album, 1989, from Spotify. It became the biggest selling album of the year, selling 3.66 million copies in just nine weeks. As of today, November 23, Adele’s latest album is projected to sell at least 2.5 million copies in its first week. That would be the biggest single week sales for any artist since at least 1991 when Soundscan started tracking sales. On Itunes alone, 25 sold 900,000 downloads the first day it was released, last Friday.
Consumers have spoken and they’re still willing to pay for music they really, really like.
Editors Note: Ari is doing good work over at Digital Music News and I suggest checking out his site as in general I appreciate the contribution Ari provides to our community, but on this issue I simply disagree.