What the Numbers Tell Us About Streaming in 2014

By the end of 2014 streaming revenues will account for $3.3 billion, up 37% from 2013. However headline market value numbers only ever tell part of the story. Just as important are the numbers on the ground that give us some sense of where the money is flowing and of the sustainability of the business models. During the last two weeks we have been fortunate to have four different sets of data that go a long way to filling in those gaps:

Each is interesting enough in isolation but it is the way that they interact and interdepend that gets really interesting:

  • Sustainability: A lot is rightly made of whether the subscription business model is sustainable. Spotify has showed us that, at least in a local subsidiary, an operational profit can be turned. However that profit rate was just 2.5%, does not account for previously acquired losses and also does not account for the broader company’s cost base where many of Spotify’s other costs lie. 2.5% is a wafer thin margin that leaves little margin for error and would be wiped out in an instant with the sort of the advertising Spotify has been using in the US. Meanwhile Soundcloud have demonstrated that it is also entirely possible to post a heavy loss even without rights costs. Soundcloud is going to need every ounce of its investor money and new revenue streams when it adds a 73.2% rights cost to its bottom line (though Soundcloud is doing all it can to ensure it doesn’t have to play by those rules and instead hopes to operate under YouTube’s far more preferable rates).
  • Transition: Nielsen’s US numbers should finally remove any lingering doubt about whether streaming is eating directly into download revenue. As MIDiA Research revealed last month, 23% of streamers used to buy more than an album a month but no longer do so. Streaming is converting the most valuable downloaders into subscribers and in doing so is reducing their monthly spending from $20 or $30 to $9.99. The combined effect of the perpetual decline of the CD and now of the download make it hard for streaming to turn the total market around. That won’t happen globally until 2018, though in many individual markets streaming driven growth is already here. Spotify pointed to bundles with the Times of London newspaper and mobile carrier Vodafone as key sources of growth in the UK. This sort of deal points to how subscriptions can break out of the early adopter beachhead and drive incremental ‘found’ revenue.
  • The Ubiquity of Free: YouTube, Pandora, Soundcloud and Spofity free are among the largest contributors to streaming’s scale. Some business models are more proven than others – Pandora looks better placed than ever to be a central part of the long term future of radio. YouTube’s role remains controversial though. Its proudly announced $1bn payout milestone is less impressive when one considers Content ID was launched in 2007 and that this is all rights holders, not just music. So let’s say 60% was to music rights holders, over the course of seven years that averages out at $0.07 per year for each of YouTube’s current one billion monthly users. That’s a pretty small return for the globe’s biggest music service.

We are clearly still some distance away from a definitive set of evidence that can tell us exactly what streaming’s impact will be. But in many ways it is wrong to wait for that. There will never be a truly definitive argument. Instead the world will continue to change in ways that will better fit the streaming market. It is a case of streaming and the industry meeting half way. This is exactly what happened with downloads. Early fears that downloads would accelerate the demise of the CD and instigate the decline of the album were both confirmed but the music industry learned how to build a new set of businesses around these new digital realities. The same process will take place with streaming.

We are already seeing some remarkable resilience and appetite for change from artists, from DIY success stories like Zoe Keating, through veteran rockers like Iggy Pop, right up to corporate megastars like Ed Sheeran. These are as diverse a collection of artists as you could wish for but they are united in an understanding that the music industry is changing, again, and that simply bemoaning the decline in sales revenue will not achieve anything. Of course it sucks that sales revenue is falling and of course its infinitesimally easier for me to write these words than to live them. But that sort willingness to evolve to the realities of today’s rapidly changing market will set up an artist with the best chance of surviving the cull. The old adage rings truer than ever: adapt or die.

Sopa Highlights Media Industry Strategic Failings

The controversial US copyright and piracy acts Sopa and Pipa (see this Wired piece for a Bluffer’s Guide on what they are) have been thrust centre stage by Wikipedia’s planned protest black-out on Wednesday.  It has taken an entity the size of Wikipedia to bring the debate out of the confines of the digerati and to the mainstream.   For that Wikipedia deserves great credit.

And the debate does need to take place in the mainstream.  The effects of the bills (if passed, upheld in the face of legal challenge and then successfully implemented) will be felt keenly by mainstream consumers.

However I am not going to add to the already vibrant and detailed discussion about the ethical and constitutional implications of the bills, nor the legion flaws and ambiguities in the proposed legislation. Instead I want to put Sopa and Pipa in the context of wider media industry strategy and response to digital change.

Sopa, Pipa and the Media Meltdown

Back in my days at Forrester I helped develop the concept of the media meltdown to describe the process of media industries responding to the impact of digitization.

The media meltdown occurs in three key stages:

  • Stage 1: Audiences take control of their content consumption via new digital technology (think CD ripping, P2P, on demand video streaming, iPads etc).
  • Stage 2: Traditional media industry business models crumble while media companies grapple with denial.  Instead of comprehending that a paradigm shift in consumer behaviour has occurred they think they can turn back the proverbial clock by fighting online piracy and restricting the disruptive threat of legal services.
  • Stage 3: There are two potential conclusions, either the media industries comprehend that user behaviour has changed for ever and that they need to embrace that change with new business models, or they fail.  (For more on the media meltdown check Forrester’s CPS blog and the ever insightful James McQuivey)

Of course as with any analytical framework, this is a generalized world view but it provides a very useful lens through which to view media industry anti-piracy legal activity, lobbying and resultant legislation.  It is immediately apparent that Sopa and Pipa fall within stage 2 of the media meltdown but it would be disingenuous to suggest that the media companies that have lobbied for them – and for other acts such as the French Hadopi act and the British Digital Economy Bill – are in complete denial.  Rather what we have is a distortion of priorities.  These media companies and their industry bodies in particular rightly identify online piracy as a major disruptive threat to their businesses.  However,  instead of recognizing that behaviour shifts have occurred around which new businesses should be built, they reason that turning off the tap on piracy will starve piracy of oxygen, until it withers away.

Digital Piracy Perennially Outwits the Pursuer

As well intended as this thinking is, it is flawed.  Digital piracy (in its many, many guises) is all about innovation and change.  Every time media companies manage to finally catch up with digital piracy – either through enforcement, legislation or technical measures – the pirates have already moved on. Fighting piracy is akin to a game of whack-a-mole, but in this version of the game the moles learn.  Every time one is smacked down another one comes up that is smarter, harder to see and more difficult to reach.

Mainstream Consumers Become  the Effective Targets of Anti-Piracy

The simple and unavoidable fact is that piracy will always move more quickly and more effectively than its pursuers.  Technology improvements can be measured in days, even hours.  Legislation takes years.  This dynamic is one of the key reasons why acts like Sopa and Pipa have such far reaching implications for mainstream consumers: the hard core tech savvy pirates will always find ways of evading the counter measures, the mainstream will not.  Remember how DRM inconvenienced legitimate customers and did nothing to impact pirates?  The parallels here are clear.  Of course there are obvious and important differences between digital content buyers and passive pirates, but there are also similarities.  One of the most important of which is that they are often the same people.  Many paid content buyers also access free illegal content: they blend their content acquisition practices, often using free illegal sources for either discovery or the content they are just not willing to pay for, and then paying for the rest.

Legislation is Fully Necessary But Strategic Priorities Need Rebalancing

To be clear, this is not an apology for piracy, nor is it an argument against legislation – indeed it is crucial that laws evolve quickly enough to keep up with digital change so they can establish the frameworks in which legitimate content business models can prosper and illegal ones cannot.  Instead I am making the case for a rebalancing of strategic priorities and for taking the long view.  Consumer behaviour has changed for ever.  More people are consuming more content across more platforms than ever before, but fewer of them are paying for it.  Making free illegal content harder to get will only weaken consumption and demand unless game-changing legal alternatives simultaneously fill the vacuum.

For example, turning off access to the Pirate Bay and then pointing users  to iTunes will fall far, far short.  Media companies need to get brave, like never before, and quickly so.  They need to start looking at what makes the illegal services so threatening to them and then give legitimate companies licenses to do just the same, legally.  Some media industries get this more than others. For example the TV studios quickly realized the best way of fighting free was with free itself, launching Hulu, ABC.com and iPlayer as genuinely compelling (in fact even more convenient) alternatives to BitTorrent.

Legislators: Compel Media Companies to License to Identikit Legal Alternatives

If the US Congress wants to ensure that Sopa and Pipa are balanced in a way that will help drive digital innovation rather than stifling it in favour of analogue-era protectionism, they should look to baking-in binding innovation commitments from media companies.  To ensure that for every type of illegal service that is wiped out of the US-facing Internet, the opportunity is created for new companies to offer the same type of service legally, with guaranteed licenses from media companies (i.e. without being watered down to irrelevancy with usage restrictions).  Then Sopa and Pipa could become the foundation stones of a period of unprecedented media industry innovation that would finally recast the mould of media business models in the post-meltdown world.  The alternative is media industry failure.  Though they might not realize it, the media industry lobbyists are currently on track for hastening their industries’ demise, not safeguarding their futures.

Why Rhapsody Needs More Than Just Napster To Flourish

Rhapsody yesterday announced the acquisition of long term rival Napster from US retailer Best Buy.  Rhapsody will retire the Napster brand and migrate the customer base over to its own service, with Best Buy gaining a minority stake in Rhapsody. It is a somewhat poignant end to one of digital music’s old guard, going out with a whimper rather than a bang.

The acquisition will give Rhapsody an important boost in scale at a pivotal time, namely as Spotify aggressively grows its US subscription business and simultaneously disrupts the entire market with its introduction of free on-demand music to the US market (a ship which of course MOG and Rdio are also busy jumping on).

When 2+2=2.5

In the near-term the Napster acquisition will put more clear water between Rhapsody’s subscriber count and Spotify’s.  It should also grant Rhapsody membership of the the ‘1 Million Club’, with its 800,000 subscribers swelled by a few hundred thousand from Napster.  The last time Napster reported their numbers in December 2008 they had 700,000 subscribers.   After three years in the Best Buy wilderness and shifts towards bundled download products I estimate there to be no more than 400,000 fully fledged subscribers left, probably more like 300,000.

But Rhapsody will be keenly aware that even keeping hold of just 300,000 subscribers will be no mean feat. They will remember keenly the 2008 acquisition of Yahoo! Music’s 400,000 subscribers and their rapid disappearance into the ether.  Napster will also recall the similar magical disappearing trick of the 350,000 AOL Music Now subscribers they acquired in December 2007 for $43 per subscriber.  In the business of acquiring music subscribers 2+2 too often = 2.5.

Rhapsody’s President Jon Irwin said of the acquisition that “scale is extremely important in this business.”  He is of course entirely correct.  Rights fees leave little in the way of margins.  For sake of full disclosure I’ve been a very long term fan of Rhapsody, right since their earliest days. It was partly our experiences of Rhapsody that led myself and my former colleague David Card to be so bullish about music subscriptions when we were helping build the Jupiter Research digital music forecasts.  But the time has come for Rhapsody not just to change but to drive change.

The digital music market is a different world from that Rhapsody was built for.  Unless Rhapsody wants to be limited to spending the next year or two simply trying to stay one subscriber ahead of Spotify it needs to overhaul its product roadmap.

Rhapsody needs unlimited MP3, now!

I’ve long advocated that if the record labels really want to ensure the extant premium subscription services don’t become extinct that they must empower them with dramatically more powerful licenses: namely unlimited MP3.  Of course it will be a good year or two more of global music revenue decline before the labels hurt enough to really countenance unlimited MP3, but Rhapsody needs it now.

So what can Rhapsody do in the meantime?  Well they’ve already got great discovery and editorial etc. so it is not really the experience they need to fix, rather the entire value proposition.  They need to ask themselves ‘what do we want to mean to consumers in the Spotify age?  What can makes us dramatically and unmistakeably different?’  Unless they can really address this fundamental question Rhapsody will face the very real prospect ending up looking like Spotify’s stuffy old uncle, which would be a criminal insult for the Grand Old Lady of digital music.

The Socially Integrated Web and Facebook’s Content Strategy

Click on the video below to view my latest Music Industry Blog podcast.  This episode addresses the Socially Integrated Web, the term I use to describe Facebook’s content strategy.

Topics covered in this episode include:

  • Joining users’ digital dots
  • The four types of digital content ecosystems
  • How Facebook will extend its ecosystem reach
  • The universal content dashboard
  • What will happen to content companies that integrate with Facebook

In Conversation With Boinc’s Adam Kidron

Here is the video of my conversation yesterday with the CEO and founder of the forthcoming music service Boinc.  We discuss a number of things, including:

  • the state of digital music
  • Facebook’s potential impact on the space
  • reestablishing value in music
  • addressing the emerging market challenge

Adam also shares his vision for the music industry annd his concept of ‘creating an API around the entirity of music’.

Take a look and let me know your thoughts and comments.

Waiting For Facebook

As the market collectively holds its breath in anticipation of Facebook’s much (over?) hyped music service launch this coming Thursday, it is instructive to take stock of where we are at the moment to better understand the eager expectation.

Digital music is stuck in a rut

At the start of the year I made a speech at Midem, positing that digital music was at an impasse.  Now, with the best part of a year gone, it still is. Granted we’ve had some important and encouraging developments (Spotify’s US launch and 1 million+ paying subs and Pandora’s IPO among them) but the fundamentals remain unchanged (see figure):

 

  • Paid downloads are an Apple micro-economy not a marketplace. Despite valiant efforts from the likes of 7 Digital and Amazon, the 99 cent download just isn’t translating well outside of the iTunes ecosystem.  Why?  Because the tail is wagging the dog.  iTunes downloads are an extension of i-devices not vice versa.   The iTunes 99 cent download is effectively monetized CRM.  Deep, elegant device integration is crucial for any digital music experience, especially so paid downloads. 7 Digital’s Music Hub build for Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is the sort of implementation needed, but both 7 Digital and the market as a whole need a much wider addressable base than Galaxies alone (retail embargoes notwithstanding).
  • Premium rentals are an evolutionary dead-end. Despite Spotify doing a most admirable job of breaking the 1 million premium subscribers mark – which all other services had spent years failing to do the fact remains that 9.99 rented music is a high-end aficionado market.  Spotify have done a great job of building on the fantastic pioneering work of Rhapsody but in doing so they have developed the ‘faster horse’ that Henry Ford said his customers would have requested instead of the Model T if he’d asked them what they wanted.  Rdio and Mog both have great user experiences but have struggled to make headway because the basic value proposition of 9.99 a month for rented music just doesn’t appeal to most consumers.  Heck, 9.99 a month for owned music doesn’t even appeal anymore to most consumers anymore.  Mass market consumers may be willing to pay much more than 9.99 a month on TV, broadband, mobile etc. but they won’t for music. It may not be pretty but this is the harsh reality that must be accepted. As far as music is concerned the contagion of free is legion and the best way to fight free is with free itself (or at least something that feels like free – see my previous post on subsidized subscriptions for more).
  • Digital music is cluttered and complex. There is so much choice of catalogue and services that paradoxically there is no choice at all for consumers, unless you’re a savvy aficionado willing to wade your way through the clutter. Mass market consumers need the digital dots joining.  Back in my days at Forrester I wrote about the need for 360 Degree Music Experiences, where the disparate parts of the digital music journey get pulled together by an interconnected ecosystem.  The case for this is even stronger now.

Music: Facebook’s user lock-in

And this is where Facebook comes in.   As I wrote earlier this year, it doesn’t make any sense for Facebook to try to ‘do a MySpace’ or for that matter to ‘do a Spotify’ or ‘do an iTunes’.  Facebook is becoming a launch pad for our online lives just as Google is.   But whereas Google largely gets us to places we don’t yet know, Facebook is what (and who) we do know.  And in that lies a massive asset for digital music and an even larger platform for Facebook’s future growth.

I expect Facebook to join music’s digital dots and become a social dashboard for digital music activity.  By plugging our music activity into our social graph Facebook can both enrich those services and tap into the tastes of our friends.  The net result will be a richer digital music experience across multiple services and – most crucially for Mark Zuckerberg – one more reason why we’ll want to stick with Facebook when the Facebook-Killer finally raises its long overdue head.

Spotify’s US Launch: First Take

Spotify finally today announced their excessively anticipated US launch. Protracted negotiations with the US labels turned this into one of digital music’s longest running sagas.  And although the $100 million of extra funding for label guarantees and advances seems to have successfully assuaged concerns, the labels weren’t just digging in their heels for the sake of it:  the US digital music market has a lot at risk in the face of Spotify’s arrrival and of course there are growing doubts about the Freemium model.

The label negotiations resulted in the last year in  limits being put on the free element of Spotify so that the full unlimited free offering that got Spotify off to such a great start in Europe will only be available to an initial swathe of invited users in the US.  Once the invite-user phase is over, free users will get 20 hours a month for 6 months, falling to 10 hours thereafter, along with a 5 plays-per-track limit.

When Unlimited Isn’t Actually Unlimited

The 10 hours / 5 plays mix is clearly intended to make people use Spotify as a complement to other services, not as a replacement.  Many listeners simply won’t bump into those restrictions.  Those that do though will be the more engaged music aficionados who will either have the will and means to pay for the unlimited premium offering, or will be young kids and those who can’t pay 9.99 a month and they will look elsewhere i.e. to YouTube and to illegal alternatives.

There is evidence to suggest that both might have happened in Europe: in March Spotify announced it had 1 million paying subscribers (something that no other premium services has yet achieved).  But they also announced that only 6.7 million of their total 10 million subscribers are active.  So a third of Spotify’s users either a) just got tired of the novelty of the service b) don’t use it much c) got fed up of the new restrictions and voted with their feet.  The likelihood is all three play a role.

This all matters because ‘just how free’ Spotify actually is will play a major role in deciding how similar an impact it will have in the US compared to Europe.

Spotify Will Be Net-Positive for the US Digital Music Market

My take is that Spotify will be successful and will also be disruptive but on balance will be net positive for the US digital music market (see figure).

Spotify has that priceless commodity: momentum.  More than that, they have mastered the art of maintaining momentum.  Most other services would have seen their momentum fizzle out in the face of a yearlong delay to a US launch.  Not Spotify. Instead they actually managed to use it to sustain momentum.  How?  Because of another of Spotify’s core strengths: scarcity.  Nothing drives demand like scarcity of supply.  Spotify built its European growth upon a perception of scarcity through its invite-only launch. It is set to do the same in the US, but with additional boon of massive pent up demand from US digital music fans who have had to deal with absolute scarcity this last year.

Can Spotify Afford to Be Successful in the US?

Until Spotify ramps up its US ad sales business every free user will be proportionately more costly than free European users.  But Spotify has learned a lot from its European experience.  It has learned which levers to pull to manage growth.  I expect Spotify to plan and manage US growth on a ratio-target basis, with free users never being allowed to exceed a certain share of total users.  E.g. the 50 million users target touted by an over-zealous Spotify ad sales exec would require 5 million paying subscribers to have signed up.  Spotify can’t afford to screw this up.  Getting the economics right will be crucial to a successful exit, which has surely got to be the next move.

What Do US Music Services Have to Lose?

If Spotify can be successful, to what extent will their gains come at the expense of the incumbent services?

  • Rhapsody, Napster, MOG, Rdio et al: the incumbent premium subscription services are right to be nervous: some of them have had years to make the model work yet haven’t managed to reach the 1 million subscriber mark.  Rhapsody has announced that it just hit 800,000 paying subscribers, but despite being 150,000 up from the last tally it is only 25,000 more than Q4 2008 which equates to a net gain of just 833 new subscribers a month. Rhapsody’s position is reflective of the overall stagnant nature of the premium subscription sector in the US.  Prior to Spotify the European subscription market didn’t even get out of the starting blocks, let alone have the chance to become stagnant.  So the US subscription services have good reason to fear Spotify as a premium player.  With the restrictions on free plays I don’t anticipate them losing many subscribers to Spotify Free though.
  • Pandora: whatever Pandora’s Tim Westergren says, Pandora will see some of its users defect to Spotify.  Yes it is a different value proposition and yes there are many users for whom Spotify will be no alternative.  But there will be those who simply tolerate not being able to listen to exactly what they want rather than perceiving it as part of the value proposition.  Those users, for whom free is the key driver, will be at risk.  Once again though, the limits on Spotify’s free tier should contain this threat to some degree.
  • Apple, Amazon and Goole: none of the big three really have much to fear given their different positioning and products but will watch for new Spotify product features cautiously.  They may even feel the need to accelerate launch of free on-demand streaming in their locker services (i.e. not just of users’ existing music collections)

So it becomes clear that the record labels have a done a decent job of engineering Spotify’s licenses in such a way that the incumbent US services face minimum competitive risk.   One hopes that this doesn’t also mean that Spotify’s wings have been clipped so far that it won’t be able to truly shine in the US.  Because Spotify has done a huge amount in Europe: bringing digital music to the mainstream and freeing it from the chains of the iPod.

I actually hope that Pandora and Rhapsody et al do feel some serious competitive pressure, so that they can focus on what they need to do better and then lean on the labels to give them the licenses to do so.  Because the best way the labels can drive the market is by using licensing to empower services with more functionality rather than using it to restrict disruptive threats.

Spotify and Virgin Media Take The Third Way

UK cable broadband and TV provider Virgin Media and Spotify today announced the partnership deal they’ve been working on for some time.  The deal will ensure that Spotify is delivered across the web, mobile and TV to Virgin customers.

On the surface this might not seem like such a big deal, but don’t be fooled, it is potentially huge…just so long as it is executed upon properly….

A Marriage of Supreme Convenience

This is a marriage of supreme convenience: Virgin Media and Spotify really need each other right now.  Virgin Media has been pushing hard at delivering a truly differentiated music service for some time now.  Just over two years ago they announced the holy grail of digital music: an unlimited MP3 subscription service in partnership with Universal Music (you can see my post about the announcement here).  Unfortunately this was too big a step taken too soon for the rest of the majors, and Virgin and Universal were forced to back down. (For the record, the arrival of unlimited MP3 is a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’, whatever some label execs might think.)

So now Virgin have turned to Spotify for plan B, and Spotify need Virgin just as much as they need Spotify.  Spotify’s struggle to make the economics of free add up are well documented and their struggle towards profitability has raised some difficult questions about the Freemium model.  Having  Virgin deliver paying customers to Spotify’s door will be a major boost for the Swedish streaming service.

Digital Music’s Third Way

For years now I have been advocating a Third Way for monetizing digital music and Spotify and Virgin look like they’re about to take this very route.

Right now digital music has two options: Paid (iTunes, Rhapsody etc) and Free (YouTube, Pandora etc).  Paid generates high average spend but only appeals to a minority of customers.  Free appeals to the mass market but doesn’t generate enough income for rights owners nor enough profit for services.

Like it or loathe it, the Internet has made most people expect music to be free, whether that be from YouTube or BitTorrent etc.  Free is of course the only way to truly fight free, but if free doesn’t pay the solution is to make music ‘feel like free’ by getting a third party to subsidize some or all of the cost.  This is the Third Way of Digital Music (see graphic).

Go Big Or Go Home

Spotify have already experimented with this approach with mobile operator 3 and ISP Telia Sonera.  This is potentially Spotify’s most important deal yet. But for this deal to realize its potential, Spotify and Virgin will have to hit upon heavily subsidized prices, ideally with the cost to consumer hidden entirely in some bundles.  Simply offering a couple of £ discount won’t fly.

Spotify and Virgin Media have the opportunity here to set the gold standard for subsidized subscription models.  Here’s hoping they seize that opportunity with both hands and kick start digital music’s most viable route to the mass market.

Music Subscriptions: Dead or Alive?

[Please note that this post first appeared on the Forrester Consumer Product Strategy blog.  Over the coming month or so I will be migrating all of my activity there.  I will soon be posting new information here for you to amend your feeds and subscriptions. Thanks]
Mark Mulligan[Posted by Mark Mulligan]

Follow me on

Real Networks yesterday announced that they intend to spin-off music subscription service Rhapsody as a stand alone business. Rhapsody has long been held up as the best of breed music service, but in the age of Spotify and Comes With Music it and other premium rentals have increasingly struggled to maintain relevancy.  Spotify and Comes With Music each may have

fundamental business issues and are very different offerings, but they both provideunlimited music free at point of consumption.  Once you have that proposition in the marketplace selling 9.99 rented streams looses its shine, however good the discovery and usability may be.

This time two years ago Rhapsody, Napster and Yahoo had about 1.8 million paying subscribers between them.  Since then Yahoo got out of the game (passing its subs onto Rhapsody), Napster got sold and the total count is now around 1.3 million. So just as the music industry is meant to be booming online, its premium tier sheds over a quarter of its value across its heavyweight proponents.

The simple fact is that charging 9.99 or more a month for music that often only sits on your PC is not a mass market value proposition.  It’s great for aficionados but mass market consumers aren’t used to buying music that way.

So is this the end for subscriptions?  No, not at all, in fact they’re doing better than ever, it’s just the old guard that is struggling to keep pace.  A new generation of subscription services are being built that place portability at their core and that often hide some or all of the end-cost to consumers.

Let’s take a quick look at the numbers, here are total paid subscribers by territory (all numbers are approximate):

  • Europe: 1.25 million (key players: Spotify,Vodafone, Napster)
  • US: 2 million (key players: Rhapsody, Napster)
  • ROW: 5 million (key players: Melon)

That gives a global total of about 8.25 million, which is promising though still short of where they need to be.  If subscription services are to help digital music break free of the iPod orbit and go mass market then two things need to happen:

  • Premium subscriptions need to be unlimited MP3
  • Mass market subscriptions need to have channel partners such as telcos and device companies hide some or all of the cost to consumers i.e. subsidized subscriptions (For the record I think the ‘cost to consumer’ price point for unlimited music should be 3 euros/dollars/pounds  a month.)

The first generation of music subscriptions may have been niche also rans, but the next wave – given the right business models – could be much more important.

Putting the Crowd in the Cloud

[Please note that this post first appeared on the Forrester Consumer Product Strategy blog.  Over the coming month or so I will be migrating all of my activity there.  I will soon be posting new information here for you to amend your feeds and subscriptions. Thanks]

Mark Mulligan

[Posted by Mark Mulligan]

Follow me on

I have a favour to ask of you: I have the germ of an idea which I am developing for a forthcoming report and I want try it on you.  So please let me know your thoughts.

Apart from the persistent pressure of free, two of the recurring trends that look set to shape the future of digital music are:

  1. The Cloud
  2. Social

First a few thoughts on the cloud….

The cloud is of course is already with us, but largely as a collection of disparate connected music experiences (e.g. Pandora, Spotify, Comes With Music) rather than as something more all-encompassing.  I’m skeptical of the truly ubiquitous experience happening anytime soon.  Indeed, the practical limitations on ubiquitous connectivity mean that connectivity will in fact fall short of ubiquity for some time (more on that from my colleague Ian Fogg later this year).  But it is clear that over the next few years more of the dots will be joined.  And sometimes the dots will be joined by innovative workarounds, such as Spotify’s ‘offline’ streaming solution.

And a few thoughts on social…

Readers of my Music Product Manifesto will know that I’m a stronger believer in the near term potential of social in music experiences than I am of the cloud.  In order to effectively compete against free music products need to create new, unique music experiences and social interactivity is a key means of achieving this.  If you put a $0.99 iTunes download against a $0.50 Amazon download against a BitTorrent $0.00 download the BitTorrent download will always win.  Future music products need to do more. Formally layering social functionality into the experience is key here, both to add a connected element but also for discovery.  With so much noise online, trusted taste makers (or ‘curators’ as Nettwerk Music’s Tony McBride calls them) are key.  And who do we trust most for recommendations?  People we know and connect with.

My thesis is that these two dynamics not only don’t have to be, dare I say it, disconnected, but that they should be inextricably linked. Their paths should be moulded together.

The likes of Last.FM (Audio Scrobbler) and Apple (Genius) have started to demonstrated the power of ‘Crowd Sourcing’ in the music discovery journey.  Spotify and YouTube and many others are showing the way for cloud based music experiences.

The time has come to be the crowd in the cloud.

Crowd in the Cloud

Social tools and media are of course already inherently connected and inherently cloud based, whether it be Facebook, Twitter or MySpace.  When woven into the fabric of a digital music offering they bring that experience to life.  In a connected music experience that exists across multiple devices and multiple platforms, social connectivity is more important than ever. Social connectivity turns a bored 10 minutes waiting for a train into a connected a fun engaged interaction with a friend, sharing playlists on MySpace. It transforms looking for something new to listen to on your iPhone into a social discovery journey.

This idea’s still taking shape, so I’d love to hear your thoughts.  I’ll post further on the concept as it evolves.