Business News Digital Top Stories

More bloody Taylor Swift

By | Published on Thursday 6 November 2014

Taylor Swift

Well, whatever else, Taylor Swift has ensured she’s high up on the news agenda this week hasn’t she? It was Spotify which went public about the singer pulling her whole catalogue off the streaming platform. But – while some of the resulting reportage was along the lines of “what an idiot for pulling out of the streaming future” – there can be few that don’t know there’s a new Taylor Swift album out right now.

Though, while it was the Spotify pull that ensured a headline spot in the business news pages, Swift and her new record ‘1989’ were already high up the general news agenda. This morning’s story is that the new long player sold 1.287 million copies in the US alone in its first week on sale, making it the only million selling LP Stateside this year. It accounted for 22% of album sales in the US last week and outsold the next 106 best-selling LPs combined.

Of course, it’s not uncommon for there to be a massive difference in the units shifted between the biggest albums of the moment and all the other records in the charts, especially if you have a megastar artist releasing a new LP in an otherwise quiet release week. But still, Swift’s stats are impressive.

Whether her decision to not make the new record immediately available to the streaming platforms (even before the wider Spotify pull) played a part in that success is hard to know for certain. Swift is simply the biggest American pop act of the moment, and that artist frequently dramatically out-performs everyone else. Though being a streaming platform holdout clearly hasn’t hurt sales, and probably has resulted in some uplift, even if only slightly.

Meanwhile, neither the lady herself nor her usually vocal record label boss Scott Borchetta have commented, as yet, on the pull of the singer’s entire catalogue from certain streaming services. Though MusicAlly has noted that Swift’s music only seems to have disappeared from those platforms that offer fully on-demand freemium options, so primarily Spotify and Deezer. Meanwhile those with no freemuim level like Beats, or freemium that revolves around Pandora-style interactive radio rather than fully on-demand, like Rdio, seem to still have some Swifty goodness going on.

Earlier this week analyst Mark Mulligan noted that allowing top level artists the option to only make their records available to paying subscribers on services like Spotify was a potential compromise position between the streaming firms and those bigger acts hesitant of certain new business models.

Spotify, for one, has mainly resisted that option, even though you could argue it could help the DSP upsell its paid-for service. Presumably there are concerns about where you draw the line, because if too many big artists went premium-only it would make Spotify freemium a greatly inferior service, hindering the whole strategy of ‘hook em with freemium, then upsell premium’.

And especially while the freemium user-upload sites like YouTube and SoundCloud all have the big name artists in their system, either because labels treat them as promotional rather than revenue services (especially YouTube), or because users are uploading the content and the labels’ content takedown systems can’t keep up. This concern will only heighten once YouTube enters the subscription streaming space and becomes a head-on competitor of Spotify et al. Which is imminent, of course.

Spotify might also point out that while its freemium level isn’t especially good for anyone in terms of revenue, we’re all in this together, and if we can get tens of millions of users paying – hundreds of million across the market worldwide – we’ll all be quids in. And the most effective way of doing that is continuing with the freemium-to-premium strategy for the time being, even if it means millions of freetards can exploit the model in the short-term.

Though some do still reckon that split catalogues will become the norm as the streaming music market matures, with some key artists not available via freemium, and maybe even extra premiums to pay to access the most desirable music, making the subscription packages of Spotify et al more like the cable networks, “I’ll take general pop and rock with some added Radiohead and Taylor Swift thank you kindly”.

So lots of food for thought as always. Who knew Taylor Swift would ever provide us all with such intellectual stimulation?