French Music Sales Are In A Tailspin, Get Used To It

france decline2015 was another year of mixed fortunes for the music industry, with Nordic markets showing positive signs (again) while some bigger markets struggle. It is in this context that French music industry trade body SNEP announced that the French recorded music market registered a whopping 7% decline in 2015, which followed hot on the heels of another 7% decline in 2014. The net result is that France’s recorded music market is now 67% smaller than it was in 2000. To give an extra sense of perspective, if the French market had declined by the same €32 million in 2001 that it did in 2015, the market would have reduced by just 2%. Streaming revenues were up an impressive 47% but physical sales fell by 16% and downloads by a staggering 21%.

Streaming is an increasingly important part of the mix but it is still a minority player, increasing its market share from 16% in 2014 to 24% in 2015. Even though the download collapse was seismic, the lost revenue (€12.7 million) was less than half the amount that streaming grew by (€33.2). So however much streaming may be cannibalising downloads (and it is) it is adding more than it is taking, in France anyway. But we are not just experiencing one format transition, the CD is dying off too. So when you add the decline in download sales and physical sales together, the total (€64.3 million) is nearly double what streaming added. The recorded music business is switching from a sales model to an access model but the revenue transition is lagging the behavioural shift.

midia forecastsPerhaps most perplexing though was the fact that ad supported streaming revenue, for both audio and video, declined by 8%. As regular readers will know, I have long advocated that free streaming should move towards a Pandora like model and away from full on demand. Now the revenue story is building to support this case.

Back in October we published our MIDiA Research music forecasts report ‘Global Music Forecasts 2015-2020: Declining Legacy Formats Cancel Out Streaming Growth’ (from which the above chart is taken and which you can buy here). We predicted that the continued decline of legacy formats (i.e. the download and the CD) would undo all the positive growth work of streaming resulting in market stagnation / market decline. As the French experience shows us, this reality is already coming to pass.

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What the Consumer Adoption Curve Tells Us About Where Pandora is Heading

meltdown1The following post is an excerpt from my forthcoming book: Meltdown (which you can read more about here).  You can also read another excerpt from the book here.

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With any new technology there is a long flash-to-bang, a gap between its arrival and its transformative impact on consumer behaviour. For all that technologists may recognize the immediate paradigm-shifting potential of a new technology, consumers typically take years to understand and employ the benefits of it. This is because consumers adopt technology in phases, with distinct consumer groups adopting at different stages:

  • Early Adopters: These first consumers are the most adventurous and technology savvy. Early Adopters are typically younger though not necessarily young, often male, and always wanting to be at the forefront of technology.  These consumers will willingly tolerate bugs and glitches as part of the price to pay for being ahead of the curve.  Though incredibly important, the Early Adopters are only a small share of the total population, typically in the 5% to 10% range, and as a consequence any product that appeals solely to this group will remain confined to niche reach.
  • Early Followers: The Early Followers are in many ways the sternest test of whether a product or service is every going to break through to the mainstream.  These consumers are technology enthusiasts but less willing to endure bugs and glitches, instead they want technology that is exciting and new but that is also ready for prime time.  They typically take their lead from the influential voices of Early Adopters, waiting for their affirmation of a technology before adopting it themselves. Slightly more populous than Early Adopters, strong adoption by these consumers will push a product towards 20% to 25% adoption, up to, and perhaps even through, the Critical Mass Threshold.  This is the point at which a technology will either push through to the mass market or instead remain tied to the domain of the technology enthusiasts.  To date most digital music products have failed to break out of the Critical Mass Threshold, YouTube and Pandora are notable exceptions.
  • Mainstream: Should a technology have truly mainstream appeal, in terms of functionality, ease of use and pricing, then the Early Followers will help drive it to the Mainstream. This is the summit of the ambition of most technologies.  This is currently where YouTube and smartphones are.  The penetration rate is typically up to about 60-65% of the total population.
  • Late Adoptions: A few technologies will push even further to the Late Adopters and thus onto market saturation.  In pure percentage of population penetration terms this peaks at around 80%.  Current technologies in this bracket are mobile phones, email and Facebook.

As a technology goes through these stages the line of adoption almost always adheres to an S-Curve, with a long slow initial burn and then a sharp acceleration of growth before finally slowing down again and then finally flattening out.

Pandora and the consumer adoption curve

This framework is useful for both understanding the historical context of music technology but also to help gauge where current technologies are heading.  When we look at the long term historical trend for Pandora’s active users we see a strong correlation with the model (see figure).  To be clear we are not talking about the total penetration rates of the entire population, but instead in the context of Pandora the model illustrates its growth within the confines of its addressable audience.

A lot of talk was made of the impact of Apple’s iTunes Radio on Pandora’s active user count, and a small dip is clearly discernable.  However when it is considered within the context of the historical growth curve we can see that Pandora’s user growth had already matured.  Though it is worth noting that listening hours among those users actually grew in October 2013 even though users dipped.

As things stand, it appears that Pandora has reached a growth ceiling.  This does not mean that it cannot accelerate beyond this but the trend indicates that something significant will need to change to make that happen.  In a longer term perspective Pandora can absolutely push further into the mainstream populous, but that growth is likely to be slower, driven by more fundamental organic trends such as overall consumer usage of digital media and the broader transition of radio consumption to digital platforms.

Artist Interviews Wanted!

meltdown1As part of my forthcoming book on the digital music market I am looking at what it means to be an artist in the digital age.  The sorts of issues I’ll be looking at include:

  • Changes in artist income, and the mix of income sources
  • Debunking some of the ‘artists have never had it so good’ myths
  • The challenges of maintaining a career
  • The role of ‘DIY’ tools and services
  • How aspirations have evolved and attitudes to the roles labels play
  • The way in which relationships with fans have changed
  • How the creative process has changed

I’ve already been fortunate to interview some great artists for the book but I’m on the outlook for more!

If you are an artist and / or songwriter and would like to be interviewed for the book then please email me at mark AT midiaconsulting DOT COM

I won’t be able to interview everyone but I will reply everyone who emails me.

Streaming Artist Subscriptions: A Product Strategy Proposal

The following post is an excerpt from my forthcoming book: Meltdown

For all of the undoubted positive impact that streaming services continue to have on the digital music market one of the key challenges they pose is the subjugation of the artist brand to that of the music service.  With download services and CD stores the customer buys artist specific products, but with a streaming service the transaction is for all of the music in the world.  The brand of any individual artist is inherently diluted.   Artist apps are thus an artist-level subscription for the most engaged music fans, an opportunity to develop artist brand experiences across digital platforms.  However as more of consumers’ music experiences occur within access based environments, more needs to be done to build artist specific experiences within them. Doing so not only makes good business sense, it makes for better user experiences too: 20+ million tracks is a meaningless consumer proposition without an effective means of getting to the miniscule fraction of that content that any one consumer is interested in.

The solution is the introduction of artist subscriptions within existing streaming services, with users paying a small monthly fee – say $/€1 – for a month’s worth of artist content.   With the cost added directly to a monthly music subscription, users get access to a curated channel of artist content including:

  • Core catalogue: The entire standard catalogue of the artist programmed with editorial such as story of the making of each album and features such as musical influences.
  • Exclusive and rare catalogue: Music that is not available elsewhere on the streaming service, such as unreleased rarities from each album, remixes, specially made tracks for the artist subscription etc. This might require some rarer content being withdrawn from the main service to be held back for the artist subscriptions.
  • Exclusive programming: Non-standard music content such as acoustic sessions, simulcasts of concerts, music video etc.
  • Non-music content: Audio visual content that helps tell the artist story, such as editorial, photo shoots, artwork and video storyboards, artist interviews, back stage footage, live chat sessions with artists etc.

It is crucial that artists streaming subscriptions are not simply a collection of playlists.  Though delivering such a diverse suite of content types will clearly require a user experience above and beyond that of the standard streaming service. It does not however require a fundamental reworking of streaming technology architecture.  Instead these app-like artist experiences – and app-like experiences is exactly what they are – can leverage the app developer platforms most streaming services already have.  Indeed, the success of artist subscriptions depends upon them being immersive, programmed and interactive experiences, telling the artist’s story to new fans and enriching it for existing fans.  The programming effort will of course be significant and the burden will need to fall as much on the labels and as it will the services. Having labels co-run artist subscriptions also makes sense from the business perspective as it gets around issues of charging for streaming apps – TuneWiki’s demise is recent evidence of the problem created by 3rd parties not being able to charge for streaming apps.

To mitigate resourcing concerns, a template-orientated approach will ensure scalability as well as a consistent user experience.  It will also be possible to rotate a majority of the content over periods of 4 to 6 months.  This is because just as music buyers buy an album and listen to it for a time before moving onto a new one, artists subscriptions will be swapped around and changed on a constant basis by users. Most fans will have a few artists they will always want to keep connected to, but will also want to have ability to deep dive into a new selection of artists every month or two.

Artist streaming subscriptions not only create a rich user experience, they also solve multiple streaming business challenges by:

  •  Monetizing the mainstream: For as long as the price of mobile enabled subscription services remain out of the reach of mass market music fans they will struggle to have mainstream appeal.   Pricing experiments will play an essential role in the mainstreaming of music subscriptions but even more flexibility will be needed if they are ever going to match the spending patterns of an audience anywhere near as large and diverse as the current base of download buyers.  Artist subscriptions give consumers the familiarity and flexibility of a la carte spending dynamics but the user experience benefits of subscriptions.  Thus consumers can build their expenditure at a pace and level that matches their appetite.
  • Creating artist specific revenue: Artist subscriptions also help mitigate the threat of streaming services turning download dollars into streaming cents.  They do so by giving consumers the ability to commit spending to the artists they like, and by enabling artists to build rich, immersive channels of content and editorial around their music.  The revenue opportunity for artists can be extended further by tight integration of ancillary revenue retailing, such as exclusive live-streamed sessions, merchandize and concert tickets.
  • Ease free users into paid subscriptions: If artist subscriptions are additionally made available to free tier streaming users they present these users with the opportunity to ease themselves into subscriptions.  Zero to €/$/£9.99 is a big leap, but zero to a few dollars or euros is a far more palatable shift.  To deliver clear value artist subscriptions will need to provide mobile and ad free listening even when paid for by free tier subscribers.  This will additionally help drive free-to-paid conversion by accentuating the usability contrast with the rest of the streaming experience for free tier users. Once they have started enjoying the benefits of ad free mobile listening for a small selection of artists, the chances of migrating them to full subscriptions are much increased.  A careful balance will however need to be struck to ensure that consumers do not swap $/€/£9.99 subscriptions for 3 or 4 artist subscriptions.
  • Giving music fans the music they want: Artist subscriptions give users an alternative, and far more intuitive, way to navigate streaming services.  At the most basic level they can be thought of like smartphone and tablet apps, supercharged bookmarks, gateways to immersive and interactive artist experiences.  At a more sophisticated level they can become the foundations of the programming architecture of streaming subscription services.  Artist channels can be grouped into collections such as genres and decades to cerate music channels, which then can be sold as bundles in the same way a pay TV provider sells bundles of programmes. Instead paying for movies, sports and documentary packages, streaming users could opt for bundles such as ‘alternative rock’, ‘EDM’ and ‘Urban’.  The bundle approach is not without its complexities, such as how much of an artist’s standalone subscription content would get into a genre bundle, and which artists would make it in.  But the clear advantage of the approach is that artist subscriptions, and bundles of them, turn the amorphous mass of streaming services into richly programmed music content networks. The pay TV model translated for music.

Streaming subscriptions still have a long way to go before most doubts will be eased, but streaming artist subscriptions represent an opportunity to accelerate the process by simultaneously addressing concerns of sustainability, user experience and artist pay outs.  Streaming artist subscriptions are not the entire answer, but they can be a big part of the puzzle.