Tag Archives: Moses Avalon

3 APPLE/BEATS MERGER GAME CHANGERS FOR MUSIC THAT NOBODY HAS MENTIONED YET

Apple-n-Beats1) IN APP SUBSCRIPTION CAPABILITIES

The biggest hurdle to the adoption of subscription services by the masses is the difficulty in subscribing. Third party players would have to give up 30% of their subscription fee to the App Store if they allowed the ability to subscribe with one button in the app. Profit margins are small to begin with. Since that equals the total income most subscription stores have to operate, this is a financial impossibility. So they have to direct people out of the app to subscribe…without actually saying so in the app. This tiny little hurdle causes a very large number of people to give up on subscribing.

Now that Beats Music will be integrated into Apple, that 30% margin is all within the company. This will likely lead Beats Music to be the first significant app to have subscription occur with one button. It simultaneously makes the billing seamless and nearly invisible (as most people view app purchases now). It also puts nearly every other streaming service at a strategic disadvantage and will likely make Beats Music equal Spotify in paying customers in 18-24 months. Google Play is the one exception, so it’s no surprise that they’ve stepped up their advertising recently.

EDIT: As Ben Patterson pointed out to me, Beats Music already offers in-app subscription. It should also be noted that ad-free radio play subscriptions on Pandora and Slacker are also offered in-app. The reality of the marketplace for full on-demand subscription is that in-app purchases severely cuts into profit margins on a business that’s already got tough margins.

2) FREE SUBSCRIPTIONS TO COLLEGE KIDS

Anyone who’s ever bought a Mac in July or August probably knows that college students get some nice bonuses from Apple when they buy their computer for school. It can be a rare discount on their computer. Recently, it has also meant a $100 gift card to use in the iTunes store. Giving little bonuses to new college students via Apple stores is in the company’s DNA.

This means that it’s a pretty easy transition to give freshmen college students a free year of Beats Music for buying a Mac. Music as a loss leader is something my friend Moses Avalon spoke about a decade ago, though he predicted it would occur with a car purchase. That may still happen, but we’re very close to this happening with a computer purchase. Possibly as soon as next month. This, however, is a good thing. Since the aforementioned iTunes relationship is seamless, getting people hooked for a year and then moved into a paying relationship of $10/month will barely be noticed by them. When this happens, Beats Music will be everywhere on college campuses.

EDIT: Moses reminded me he did mention computers as well, though it was all around files on hard drives instead of subscription cloud streaming.

3) HITS WILL MAKE EVEN MORE MONEY

One of Beats Music’s selling points is that they focus on “curated playlists”. This is a sound strategy as the sea of music available is just overwhelming for the average music listener. While they technically have every song that other streaming services have, those get little use in favor of the focused attention on the playlist. So the flipside to a system focused on curation means the lion’s share of the revenue will only land in the hands of the curated.

While the depth of playlists is very extensive in the Beats ecosystem, you’re probably still talking about maybe 500,000 songs in total that have been selected for any playlist. In a world of these services having 30 million + songs, this means that only about 1-2% of the songs will take in the bulk of the money. That’s largely true anyway, but the gap will get even more exaggerated as Beats Music grows. This also means that the average musician will still have difficulty making a living just by natural virality. Curators will gain influence and a label or artist will need to convince the curator of a song’s merits. Curators become the new radio programmers, and the new music begins to look like the old music business.

IS STEALING MUSIC REALLY THE PROBLEM?

Once again, the issue of stealing music and its moral/financial/ethical arguments are dredged up. And once again, most people miss the overall point, causing the collective issue to dig a deeper ditch while those who’ve moved past it (i.e.: major labels) are busy raking in the dough in the new music business.

Yeah, you heard me. It’s 2012, and now the neophytes are actually many indie artists (not all) while the smarter ones tend to be concentrated at major labels, thereby strengthening their power.

What started this was a post on NPR’s website by an intern named Emily White who admitted to buying very little music in her life but owning a lot via various levels of legality. This led to an impassioned response by Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker frontman David Lowery, who eloquently argued for the ethical and moral obligations Emily should have towards these artists and how stealing music has dramatically impacted their financial lives. This post has sprung up impassioned responses by, among others, Bob Lefsetz and a manager who is also, coincidentally, named Emily White. People have dug in their heels and have spilled many hours defending and vilifying both sides.

Yet lost in this discussion is one important element. Facts. Because if you’re going to argue that stealing has impacted your business, you should actually prove that…y’know…a lot of people have actually stolen your music.

Google, as the worldwide leader in search results, is a strong indicator of actual file trade demand. In fact, industry watchdog Moses Avalon argued such this week at New Music Seminar. Yet, when I went to look on Google Insights to see the level of demand for free music by David Lowery’s group Camper Van Beethoven, the message I get is, “Not enough search volume to show graphs.” This basically means, from what I can gather, that less than 50 people per month in the entire world are even showing intent to steal his music. Statisticians basically refer to this as essentially zero. Technically, the same search terms for his band Cracker show some potential thievery intent at work. However, if you actually searched these terms, you’d find most people were actually looking for a program to crack site passwords, and if they were looking for music they were more likely intending to steal the music of Uncle Kracker, who might actually have a legit beef on music stealers.

None of this is to say that I’m naive to think nobody is stealing music. Far from it. I just don’t think they’re stealing the music of the majority of artists bitching about thievery’s impact on their business. The statistics don’t bear it out. At my panel at New Music Seminar, Musicmetric CEO Greg Mead pointed out that file trading is actually decreasing in recent months. This echoes what fellow panelist Russ Crupnick reported in NPD Group’s “Annual Music Study” back in March when they reported that P2P site activity decreased from 19% of the internet population in 2006 to 13% last year.

Respected blogger Cory Doctorow also noted last month that a summary of over 20 different papers on file trading shows very little impact on sales from file trading. Drew Wilson, the author of the summary, got his results from such “fringe” groups as The Wharton School, The Journal of Law And Economics, and The Journal of Business Ethics. The most interesting line in the summary to me is this one:

Judging by the evidence we’ve collected, the evidence does not point in the direction that file-sharing, in and of itself, displace sales, but rather, other factors would also play a role in displacement of sales.

The primary “other factor” is the fact that there are too many artists competing for shrinking dollars, largely due to the shift from albums to singles. Despite the economic number that David Lowery quoted of the number of professional musicians falling by 25%, if you took “album releases” as an indicator, it seems like the number of pros has increased. In a decade, we’ve gone from about 30,000 albums being released to over 77,000 last year. And that’s just albums going thru legit channels. The problem, as noted by Chris Muratore of Nielsen on the previously noted New Music Seminar panel, is that 94% of those releases sold less than 1,000 units. Indicators that I have examined showed those low sales aren’t because of people stealing them. They come from too many releases causing most people to not even realize they are out. For example, 80s rocker Lita Ford has a new album that came out yesterday. As of this writing, it’s the 91st most popular new release on Rdio. How many of you have the patience or time to sift thru the other 90 releases to get to #91? Let alone decide to even put in the effort to steal it? Whether you were going to listen to it or not, I’d be willing to bet that almost everyone reading this found out that Lita Ford had new music from this paragraph. Stealing it is even further down their priority list.

And now that you know Lita Ford has a new record, what are you going to do about it? If you have a remote interest in her music at all, you’re most likely going to listen to it on a perfectly legal source such as YouTube, Spotify, Rdio, Mog, Rhapsody or Slacker. Why? Because I bet you caught yourself subconsciously saying that it would be quicker and easier to stream it and see what it’s about there than finding a site to steal it from, let alone having the downloads clutter your hard drive. Guess what? This is what most people do now. Having a download on a hard drive…single or album, purchased or stolen…this is the 2012 equivalent of “buying a CD with one good song on it”. People are smart and will legally stream something before any sort of ownership decision solely because they don’t want their hard drive cluttered with music they don’t like. And guessing by the demographic of my readership, I would also guess most people just want to check out what Lita is up to and have no intention of any sort of ownership. The music would have to be mind-blowing to shift the decision from “let’s see what she’s up to” to “I need to own this”.

So while all these independent artists argue thievery, do you know who’s winning? Major labels. This week, of the top 100 tracks on Spotify, only 6% are on independent labels. Major labels have figured out that the game is about exposure and awareness, two things that they are actually quite good at. It’s not about royalty rates, thievery, or even quality of music. It’s all about how I get people to know I exist. Major labels aren’t ignoring file traders, but they have moved past how much of their day they concern themselves with it. Instead, they focus on putting energy behind making music that the public wants and marketing the shit out of it so it rises above everyone else. While you’ve spent the last few years claiming the major labels are “dinosaurs” who are going to be “out of business”, they’ve actually become stronger behemoths who are more progressive than you realize.

As for the quality of their music, that’s a subjective opinion. And it’s no more subjective than the independent artists who have figured out how to make a big business out of the new music business. Artists like Tyler Ward, Kina Grannis and Alex Day, amongst others, are making six figures a year in the new paradigm. They struggle to get respect from traditional media because they’re not considered cool, credible musicians. Yet they run rings around the businesses these so-called cool bands deliver. Why? Maybe it’s simply because they deliver the kind of music more people want nowadays. As far as I can tell, they spend not a minute worrying about the money they don’t make and instead spend time making more money from the sources that do pay.

I agree ethically with David Lowery’s assessment. A person who spends extra to protect migrant workers in a third world country but takes money out of musicians’ mouths is a hypocrite. Emily White should stop complaining about wishing for a Spotify-like service and actually…y’know…subscribe to Spotify. But for actually succeeding in 2012, it’s the wrong argument. The biggest problem that David Lowery has to face is exemplified by Zach, the 24 year old New Media indie label guy at the end of Bob Lefsetz’ response post to Lowery’s “screed”. When told by a co-worker that David is the founder of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, he replies, “Not sure what either of those are…”