Coldplay’s decision to hold their new album, Mylo Xyloto, from all streaming services was one that record label EMI was reportedly uncomfortable with; but first week sales suggested it was a winning strategy that now hangs a question mark over the place of streaming for blockbuster releases, writes The Music Network in just one of dozens of articles on the subject (just take a look at how much interest there is in the Spotify story). Read on for the rest of this particular article... [Read some of the other articles and discussion on the Spotify/streaming topic in the Coldplay forum now!]
There are precedents here. Acts like Bob Dylan pulled their music from Spotify several years ago, a number of heavy metal labels recently pulled their content amid complaints over streaming rates, The Beatles have yet to license digitally beyond iTunes and AC/DC point blank refuse to go on any digital services and yet, with their 2008 release Black Ice, had their biggest selling album in over two decades.
In the UK alone, the new Coldplay album had the biggest first week for digital album sales in chart history (admittedly that is a ‘history’ that only dates back to 2004). Mylo Xyloto sold 83,000 copies digitally and 208,000 in total in its first week according to the Official Charts Company. The previous UK digital record was held by Take That’s Progress album in 2010 (79,8000 copies in week one) while Adele’s 21 did 76,000 downloads in its first week at the start of this year. Impressive figures, but behind the chart records lies another – more complex – tale entirely...
The difficulty here is that certain acts and labels still want to ringfence opening week physical sales as this tends to account for the bulk of total sales. One major record company head told TMN recently that, give or take a few thousand sales, a label can tell in the first two weeks how many copies an album will sell in its lifespan. As in cinema with box office opening weekend sales, the start of a sales campaign directs the ultimate shape of that campaign.
Coldplay are, however, that rare thing – an act with a track record of releases where each new album sells more than the previous one. Like Adele, they are the exception here – selling albums, mainly in a physical format, in high volume – rather than the rule. So while this strategy might work (certainly for first week sales) for Coldplay, it does not follow that it will work for everyone else.
So holding back major releases from streaming services can boost CD and download purchases in the short term, especially among hardcore fans keen to get new music as soon as it’s released. The longer term concern is that physical is a dying business and streaming services such as Spotify, Rdio, Deezer, MOG, Rhapsody and so forth need to have complete catalogues and all the new releases as a way of coaxing users to sign up for a rolling monthly subscription.
As soon as big name titles disappear from these subscription access-based services, consumers will start to question why they are paying a £10/$10/€10 a month premium for a service that cannot deliver them the music they want and expect to be there. Labels and acts will get higher royalties from downloads and CD sales (in the short term) than they will from streams, but collectively the industry needs to usher in a climate where streaming can be viable as the physical business is shrinking with every month.
The other wider problem is that users will go to unlicensed sources to track down music. The selling point of a service like Spotify is that it is “better than piracy” as the interface works and users know exactly that what they are getting will be official and high quality. Studies in Sweden prove that users who abandon P2P and sign up to Spotify do not go back to pirate sites. This is the long-term goal for labels and streaming services – as their very survival depends on P2P and torrent users embracing legal platforms.
While the Coldplay album was not officially on streaming sites, it has appeared on Grooveshark (although, tellingly, it is listed as Mylo Xyloto by ‘Chris Martin & Friends’ rather than ‘Coldplay’). Grooveshark is a streaming service that relies on user uploads and despite deals with some labels (and a settlement with EMI), its legality is not fully clear. The service uses the ‘safe harbor’ exemptions in the DMCA to only remove content when the copyright holder requests it. The Coldplay album has gone up and been taken down several times, with a slight name change each time, exposing how hard it is to police this all when uploaders regard the whole process as farcical.
This release experiment may have raised questions about the revenues behind streaming services (and that is clearly a wider debate that needs to be resolved), but it has also revealed that users will seek out (possibly unlicensed) alternatives if albums are not on their legal service of choice – meaning acts and labels must ask themselves which alternative is worse: one where some streaming royalties come through or one where no payments are made?
The real question here is not about if fans should buy rather than stream but rather if their first port of call for a new album is a licensed service or not.
Buy Buy Buy, not Stream Stream Stream
Kit yourself up and get spotted for the forthcoming MX tour with Coldplaying's new range of merchandise! [click on the items for the full shop]
The new range of Coldplaying merchanise (unofficial of course to the official shop) has hit our stores, with our biggest range of goods so far. Prices are as low as they can be for a Cafepress shop so more people will be able to afford them. We don't take any profits for the sale of the merchandise as a result. Take a browse in one of the online stores nearest to you: UK | US | Canada | Australia | European (shipping is worldwide, but you can choose what currency to pay in) - simply alter the country dropdown menu at the top of the shop page. [thanks to TracieMorgan and zzz]