Release Windows, the Cure for the Access vs Ownership Debate?

Back in early 2009 when I was at Forrester Research I wrote a report proposing that the Music Industry should adopt release windows.  It seemed to many something of an anachronistic concept, written just at the time with the Movie Industry – that bastion of release windows – was deeply engaged in a dialogue about compressing windows.  But now, with the growing debate over whether streaming services are cannibalizing CD and download sales, the idea is beginning to look highly relevant.  Because the simple fact is that a structured release window strategy for the music industry would do away with much of the access versus ownership debate once and for all.

Music products and services need segmenting into distinct windows

The basic structure of my release window argument was that music products and services should be segmented into tiers of priority and then each of those tiers be allocated a release window.  The tiering would work something like this:

  • Window 1, week 1: CDs, downloads and premium subscriptions
  • Window 2, week 3: Radio (excluding web-only radio)
  • Window 3, week 4: Subsidized subscriptions and web radio
  • Window 4, week 5: Ad supported streaming services


All of the new releases would go straight to Window 1 and be available there, and there alone, for a 2 week period, with terrestrial and digital radio coming after that.  This is a contentious point as radio is of course intended to act as a discovery and marketing tool but the time has come for the top tier of the music product pyramid to be held up as exactly that.  After all, why should passive music fans who don’t pay for music get to hear new songs as soon as those who pay 9.99 a month or buy downloads or CDs?  Users of free ad supported streaming services would have to wait a full 4 weeks before they get to hear the latest new music.


The problem with differentiating a free stream from a paid download is that there simply isn’t that much difference.  Release windows however, put clear blue water between the download and the free stream.

Coldplay is already pioneering the window strategy

Coldplay’s decision to keep ‘Mylo Xyloto’ off Spotify until album sales have peaked is effectively artist level windowing in practice.  The alternative strategy of just putting the odd track on there – such as Adele’s ‘Rolling In The Deep – treats streaming as a radio-like promo vehicle but if all artists did that then its promotional value would soon disappear as people would stop using streaming services.  A structured, industry level windowing strategy however would bring consistency and effective results.


Of course the windowing approach isn’t free of problems.  For example pushing radio to the second window will require a new approach to marketing music and a revision of assumptions of sales cycles.  However both of those things are already in effect happening, forced along by the current streaming status-quo, and of course unlicensed free music.  Windowing is an opportunity for record labels to take control of the situation and simultaneously protect music sales and define a long term, complementary role for streaming services.  The alternative is a prolonged and unproductive debate about cannibalization that will cause deep fault lines across the music industry and may ultimately kill off streaming all together.



10 thoughts on “Release Windows, the Cure for the Access vs Ownership Debate?

  1. I like it. There wouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all windowing strategy but it’s a very good idea for those who can make the most of that first window.

  2. I think there should be another window. Recognizing that music hits the web and hard core fans at CD street -1wk, why not do a digital release to hard core fans early. Another window. They’re willing to pay a significant premium and getting the hard core fans pumped up before street date will help marketing, too.

  3. I like this idea but would it create more incentive to pirate new releases? One of the ways to combat piracy is to make mmusic available on more legal services of varying types. How would windowing address this issue?


  4. Well, as a Spotify and iTunes customer, I am fine with windowing (but not for lesser known indie artists who need streaming exposure right away) if there is some kind of consistency to it and we don’t have to wait for years to hear albums. Right now, there is no method to the madness of when something will pop up on Spotify. Adele’s album will soon be a year old, but it is still not on Spotify. Yet her album was on all of the other streaming services right away when it came out last February. Frankly, we are in a situation where the streaming services are getting worse, not better. That is quite depressing for those of us who were early adopters and have paid for these services for years. If it gets to the point where no new music is coming on the service, I will cancel my subscription.

  5. I think it is important to make a distinction between free streaming and paid streaming. My belief is that someone who pays 9.99 a month should be given music just as soon as some one who pays 7.99 to download the album or buy the CD. Otherwise streaming services will indeed loose their raison d’etre

  6. the28/672
    I believe the following NEW Album release window offer is the only logical way to proceed.

    Each streaming service, would create an enhanced commercial free, PREMIUM channel (the28/672) for say, an additional $6.72 per month. This gives the subscriber, an exclusive and commercial free streaming window (28 days = 672 hours) for all NEW Album releases and Tracks. A new revenue pool derived from this additional channel, would be paid out separately as a premium valued per track/stream matrix to those artists whose music is listened to.

    In order to subscribe to the enhanced NEW Release offer (the28/672), consumers would have to be an existing subscriber of the service.

    Terrestrial, website, and satellite radio will continue to receive NEW releases as usual, due to the important role they play getting the word out, O-T-A (over the airwaves), with their DJ’s continuing to play and promote the music, for the fans.

  7. Have you heard of “In the Key of Success: The Five Week Jump-Start Strategy”? This E-course was recently published by Cheryl B. Engelhardt, a musician and composer who has performed across the US and Europe, written music for commercials and film/TV, and has spoken at many colleges and music conferences about building a career as an independent musician. Visit to download a personal copy. It will help you figure out your goals as a musician and, more importantly, it will show you how to achieve the results you want. Her advice is extremely effective and the E-course is an amazing value!

  8. Sadly, I don’t think release windows are a good idea for any industry. I would contend that delays to the release in the format a given user wants their content are a key driver of piracy. In this instant gratification age, if someone can’t get something quickly through legitimate means, they will look to illegal sources.

    And we can look to the movie industry for guidance here. I would love to see how DVD sales for a range of titles were affected – either positively or negatively – by publishers forcing streaming services like Netflix and rental services like RedBox to agree to 28 or 56 day delays. That strategy certainly hasn’t halted the rise of piracy.

  9. Pingback: We Need To Talk About Streaming (again)

  10. Pingback: Ignore the hype. Beyoncé’s release was totally old-school.

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