Making an Impact: Assessing Streaming’s Role in the Digital Music Market

The streaming audio market is beginning to take the perturbingly familiar shape of the download market, with one big player stealing all of the momentum and scale.  And the debate about what streaming brings to the broader digital music market continues to divide the industry across ever deepening fault lines.

But leaving aside for a moment the much visited discussions about artist payments and financial viability of the freemium model, what impact is streaming having on the overall digital market?  To help answer that question I’ve compiled IFPI reported data for multiple international territories, including total market size and growth, digital market size and growth, physical share, download share and streaming share and mapped the relationships between them (see figure).

The results show that the streaming impact picture is a complex one with many permutations.  There isn’t a definitive trend that affects all markets in a consistent manner, however a few interesting trends do emerge:

  • Streaming tends to get a foothold quicker in territories where the physical market is already in marked decline.  Once it gets established the physical market decline accelerates.  It is not possible yet to definitively conclude whether this is cause or effect.
  • Strong streaming markets tend to experience significantly stronger digital growth rates than strong download markets.
  • Strong physical markets are more likely to have downloads dominate their digital markets.
  • Strong download markets tend to be more static.
  • Unsurprisingly the Nordic markets (Spotify’s back yard) are the strongest streaming markets, France remains a mainly download digital market despite Deezer’s efforts, as does the UK.

So the impact of streaming is a nuanced story.  Over two years streaming certainly seems to have brought dynamic digital growth rates to a number of markets, and has accompanied, or driven, an accelerated CD decline.

The fact that downloads are stronger in CD markets is testament to the similarity of these ownership based models.  But perhaps the strong similarity is one of the reasons that downloads aren’t growing the digital market as strongly as streaming is in other markets? Of course downloading has already had years to get established and so there is an argument that it has already contributed its dynamic growth phase to digital.  This is probably true, but it shouldn’t be that way.  With the exception of the US, no major music market has yet passed the 50% digital mark, and across all markets, the majority of music buyers still buy CDs.  Which means that digital is still a long way from being in a position in which it could plausibly be called ‘mature’.

So digital growth does need to be happening at the rates we see in strong streaming markets, and not in strong download markets.  And if streaming is the only tool with which those rates can be achieved then the questions around commercial sustainability (for the services and across the entire music industry value chain) become all the more pressing.

The Digital Music Year That Was: 2011 in Review and 2012 Predictions

Following the disappointment of 2010, 2011 was always going to need to pack more punch.  In some ways it did, and other ways it continued to underwhelm. On balance though the stage is set for an exciting 2012.

There were certainly lots of twists and turns in 2011, including: disquiet among the artist community regarding digital pay-outs, the passing of Steve Jobs, Nokia’s return to digital music,  EMI’s API play, and of course Universal Music’s acquisition of EMI.  Here are some of the 2011 developments that have most far reaching implications:

  • The year of the ecosystems. With the launch of Facebook’s content dashboard, Android Music, the Amazon Fire (a name not designed to win over eco-warriors),  Apple’s iTunes Match and Spotify’s developer platform there was a surge in the number of competing ecosystem plays in the digital music arena.  Despite the risk of consumer confusion, some of these are exciting foundations for a new generation of music experiences.
  • Cash for cache.  The ownership versus access debate raged fully in 2011, spurred by the rise of streaming services.  Although we are in an unprecedented period of transition, ownership and access will coexist for many years yet, and tactics such as charging users for cached-streams blur the lines between streams and downloads, and in turn between rental and ownership. (The analogy becomes less like renting a movie and more like renting a flat.)
  • Subscriptions finally hit momentum.  Though the likes of rdio and MOG haven’t yet generated big user numbers Spotify certainly has, and Rhapsody’s acquisition of Napster saw the two grandaddys of the space consolidate.  Spotify hit 2.5 million paying users, Rhapsody 800,000 and Sony Music Unlimited 800,000.
  • New services started coming to market.  After a year or so of relative inactivity in the digital music service space, 2011 saw the arrival of a raft of new players including Blackberry’s BBM Music, Android Music, Muve Music , and Rara.  The momentum looks set to continue in 2012 with further new entrants such as Beyond Oblivion and psonar.
  • Total revenues still shrank.  By the end of 2011 the European and North American music markets will have shrunk by 7.8% to $13.5bn, with digital growing by 8% to reach $5 billion.  The mirror image growth rates illustrate the persistent problem of CD sales tanking too quickly to allow digital to pick up the slack.  Things will get a little better in 2012, with the total market contracting by just 4% and digital growing by 7% to hit $5.4 billion, and 41% of total revenues.

Now let’s take a look at what 2011 was like for three of digital music’s key players (Facebook, Spotify and Pandora) and what 2012 holds for them:

2011.  Arguably the biggest winner in digital music in 2011, Facebook played a strategic masterstroke with the launch of its Digital Content Dashboard at the f8 conference.  Subtly brilliant, Facebook’s music strategy is underestimated at the observer’s peril.  Without investing a cent in music licenses, Facebook has put itself at the heart of access-based digital music experiences.   It even persuaded Spotify – the current darling of the music industry – to give it control of the login credentials of Spotify’s entire user base. Facebook’s Socially Integrated Web Strategy places Facebook at the heart of our digital lives.  And it’s not just Facebook that is benefiting: Spotify attributed much of its 500,00 new paying subs gained in October and November to the Facebook partnership.

2012. Facebook is quietly collecting unprecedentedly deep user data from the world’s leading streaming music services.  By mid-2012 Facebook should be in a position to take this to the record labels (along with artist profile page data) in the form of a series of product propositions.  Expect whatever is agreed upon to blend artist level content with music service content to create a 360 user experience.  But crucially one that does not require Facebook to pay a penny to the labels.

VERDICT: The sleeping giant of digital music finally stepped up to the plate in 2011 and will spend 2012 consolidating its new role as one of the (perhaps even *the*) most important conduit(s) in digital music history.

 It would be puerile not to give Spotify credit for a fantastic year.  Doubts about the economics of the service and long term viability remain, but nonetheless 2011 was a great year for the Swedish streaming service.  It finally got its long-fought-for US launch and also became Facebook’s VIP music service partner. Spotify started the year with 840,000 paying subscribers and hit 2.5 million in November.  It should finish the year with around 200,000 more.  Its total active user base is now at 10 million. But perhaps the most significant development was Spotify’s Developer platform announcement,paving the way for the creation of a music experience ecosystem.  Spotify took an invaluable step towards making Music the API.

2012: Expect Spotify’s growth trajectory to remain strong in 2012.  It should break the 3 million pay subscribers mark in February and should finish the year with close to 5 million.  And it will need those numbers because the funnel of free users will grow even more dramatically, spurred by the Facebook integration.  But again it will be the developer platform that will be of greatest and most disruptive significance.  By the end of 2012 Spotify will have a catalogue of music apps that will only be rivalled by Apple’s App Store.  But even Apple won’t be able to come close to the number of Apps with unlimited music at their core.  More and more start ups will find themselves opting to develop within Spotify rather than getting bogged down with record label license negotiations.  Some will find the platform a natural extension of their strategy (e.g. Share My Playlists) but others will feel competitive threat (e.g. Turntable FM).  If Spotify can harness its current buzz and momentum to create the irresistible force of critical mass within the developer community, it will create a virtuous circle of momentum with Apps driving user uptake and vice versa.  And with such a great catalogue of Apps, who would bet against Spotify opening an App Store in 2012?

VERDICT: Not yet the coming of age year, but 2011 was nonetheless a pivotal year paving the way for potentially making 2012 the year in which Spotify lays the foundations for long term sustainability.

 Though 2011 wasn’t quite the coming of age year for Spotify it most certainly was for Pandora.  In June Pandora’s IPO saw 1st day trading trends reminiscent of the boom years.    By July it had added more than 20 million registered users since the start of the year to hit 100 million in total and an active user base of 36 million, representing 3.6% of entire US radio listening hours.  But Pandora also felt the downs of being a publically listed company, with flippant traders demonstrating their fear that Spotify’s US launch would hurt Pandora.

2012: And those investors do have something of a point:  whatever founder Tim Westergren may say, Spotify will hurt Pandora.  A portion of Pandora’s users used Pandora because it was the best available (legal) free music service.  Those users will jump ship to Spotify.  This will mean that Pandora’s total registered user number will not get too much bigger than 100 million in 2012 and the active number will likely decline by mid-year.  After that though, expect things to pick up for Pandora and active user numbers to grow again.  The long term outlook is very strong.  Pandora is the future of radio.  It, and services like it, will get an increasingly large share of radio listening hours with every month that passes in 2012, and with it a bigger share of radio ad revenues.  Pandora will be better off without the Spotify-converts, leaving it with its core user base of true radio fans. Spotify’s new radio play will obviously be a concern for Pandora  but this is Pandora’s core competency, and only a side show for Spotify.  Expect Pandora to up their game.

VERDICT: Since launching in November 2005 Pandora have fought a long, dogged battle to establish themselves as part of the music establishment, and 2011 was finally the year they achieved that.  There will be choppy waters in 2012 but Pandora will come out of it stronger than it went in.

Just How Important Do You Think iTunes Actually Is?….

I’ll let the chart do most of the talking.

The key takeaway  is that two of the oldest models in the digital marketplace (radio and retail) dominate in terms of users.  Persistence certainly pays off for Pandora and Apple.

The iTunes Store is of course more important than Pandora for music industry revenue as its core function is to sell music.  More than eight years after launch the iTunes Store remains by far the biggest success story in digital music sales, which given Apple’s relative lack of interest in innovating iTunes compared to their hardware, says as much about the competition as it does Apple.

There used to be a line of argument that Apple was a unique case because in its base of iPod owners it had converted the majority of the engaged, tech-savvy music aficionados that there were to be had.  That Apple had already grabbed the addressable market for competitor services.   Prior to the launch of the iPhone that base represented 88 million iPods sold.  Since then though Apple has sold 0.4 billion more devices.  The old argument just doesn’t hold water.  Apple is doing something right – or rather many things right – that can turn (relatively) mass market consumers into savvy and engaged consumers.  Something that the competition is patently not managing to do when it comes to digital music.  And as much as it may be that Apple’s largely closed ecosystem is core to converting this behaviour into paid content behaviour, it is clear that the rest of the competitive marketplace needs to start learning how to better compete with Apple if the balance of power is ever to be altered.

Some methodological notes:

  • YouTube is not included because although it is by far the largest online music destination it is not a pure music service.
  • There is a mixture of paid and total users numbers in here.  This chart is intended to give a sense of relative scale of service adoption across a diverse range of user experiences and business models.
  • The list is illustrative, not exhaustive.  So there are major players such as Amazon, MelOn and smaller players like Sony Music Unlimited, rDio, MOG, 7 Digital, MusicLoad, We7 etc who are not on here.
  • The estimate for Apple’s total regular music buyers is based upon an assumption of 40% of the unique owner installed base of iPods, iPhones and iPads.  That is to say that installed base numbers have been created for each device using replacement and new sales assumptions, and that then a unique installed base number was created using assumptions about multiple device ownership etc.  The assumptions were cross referenced and checked in multiple ways including calculating the average number of downloads per buyer, cross referencing against total market level statistics for buyer penetration and digital download sales.  The number is an informed directional estimate not a definitive measure.

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.

Facebook Fallout

As if to prove that Facebook’s F8 announcements were truly seismic we are still feeling the aftershocks now.  Interestingly though it is Spotify who is feeling most of the effect of Facebook’s moves towards becoming a 21st Century Portal.

When Spotify was positioned centre stage at F8 (literally in the case of Daniel Ek)  it wasn’t immediately apparent whether this was just Spotify as the first among equals of the dozen+ digital music services included at launch.  Now the dust is settling it is becoming apparent (to misquote Orwell) that

All digital music services are equal, but some digital music services are more equal than others.

Facebook, Guardian or Gatekeeper?

There are many quite logical strategic and financial reasons why Spotify’s bond with Facebook is so close (shared investors, scale, momentum of brands, closeness of Zuckerberg and Ek etc etc).  But in my opinion it is more interesting to look at what the long term effect of the fallout may be:

  • Facebook: Gatekeeper of the ‘Socially-Enabled Web’. Over recent years Facebook has slowly been flicking the switch on its strategy of integrating itself into the wider Internet, first with ‘Likes’ across external web sites and now with features such as the Timeline, and a play for the Universal Log In (see below for more).  What Facebook is doing is placing a social (i.e. Facebook) layer across more and more of our external web experiences and also bringing more of our external web experiences into Facebook.  This is what I term Facebook’s Socially-Enabled Web strategy. As leading content destinations such as Spotify, Vevo and Netflix jump on board they have their eyes firmly set on the 800 million potential customers and turn a blind eye to the longer term implications their collective activity is facilitating.
  • Facebook’s Digital Music Gentleman’s Club: Spotify’s tighter integration raises questions about Facebook’s role as a curator of out digital content experiences. Rdio and Mog for example appear to be given less prominence than Spotify within Facebook. Rdio users have complained that Spotify’s ‘featured music service’ status overrides some Rdio functionality within Facebook.  Facebook creating a social layer for content experiences is one thing, but choosing who gets in and who does not is an another thing entirely.
  • A Nail In The Coffin for Ownership? Universal Music’s UK Director of Digital Paul Smernicki said he saw the F8 announcements as a ‘coming of age’ for streaming services and a shift to access rather than ownership. The emergence of the consumption paradigm has been something I’ve long expounded, but it is interesting to hear it come from the world’s largest record label.  (And from a record label that typically doesn’t just let executive comment ‘slip out’.)  The addition I’d add to the argument is that we are in a transition phase where additional, complementary blended access / ownership models will be crucial to mass market revenue migration.
  • Facebook Boosts Spotify Usage, Though From What Base? New usage metrics (from a third party measurement company) suggest that active Facebook integrated usage of Spotify rose from 3.25 million to 4.5 million following the F8 announcements.   Spotify report their ‘active’ users at c. 6.5 million, which means that if these 3rd party numbers are broadly accurate that only 50% of Spotify’s ‘active’ users in a normal non-F8 month are active Facbook integrated users.  It also means that Spotify’s 2 million paying subs represent 61% of this user base.  There are some important caveats: the measurement company suggests their data should be considered as directional rather than absolute. Additionally ‘active Facebook integrated’ users is not the same as ‘active Facebook users’ but it is a decent proxy for the most engaged Spotify users. Which raises questions about just how many more potential new premium customers are left to convert. Which in turn helps explain why Spotify is widening out the funnel with a ‘6 months free Facebook streaming’ offer.
  • Facebook and the Universal Log-In.  Perhaps the most contentious issue of all has been Spotify’s insistence on all Spotify users using their Facebook log in details to access the music service.  Which of course means that if you are not on Facebook you cannot use Spotify.  Faceboook’s 21st Century Portal ambitions don’t stop with adding that social layer to content.  The Socially-Enabled Web strategy requires Facebook to become the lock and key for our digital lives.  The concept of the Universal Log In concept is far from new. Many have tried and failed.  Facebook’s scale gives it a great chance of success, and if implemented well (i.e. gradually and on an opt-in not force-in basis) it will deliver great convenience and benefit for consumers.  What Spotify are guilty of is rushing it through in a heavy handed manner.  But doing so was probably part of the price of the centre stage positioning Spotify got given.  Note that Rdio and Mog have no such requirements.  Interestingly some premium Spotify users indicate that it is possible to get around the requirement by opting out of the timeline functionality within Facebook.  It will be interesting to see whether this is a bug in need of a fix or indeed a benefit for paying users.

Expect more  fallout from the Facebook announcement, but don’t expect Spotify and Facebook to fall out

It is likely that the fallout will continue over the coming days and weeks and that Spotify and Facebook will both consider making changes (Daniel Ek even reached out to the Twitterverse to ask directly for their feedback and stated he would make changes if need be).  Indeed one survey suggested 20% of Swedes could leave Spotify in light of the changes.  But when the changes do come, don’t expect them to be a change in strategy, instead simply a slowing of the timeline (no pun intended).

The harsh reality is that Facebook’s Socially-Enabled Web strategy is simply too important to be put of course by a few disgruntled streaming music fans.

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.

MOG to Launch in the UK: First Take

[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]

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US music subscription service MOG is set to launch in the UK by the end of the 2ndquarter off the back of a 2nd round of investment totaling $10

As I posted earlier in the month, the music subscriptions space is going through an important period of transition.  It took much of the last decade to realize that the 9.99 premium rentals model was only ever going to appeal to a niche of music aficionados, and though global premium music subscribers total 8.25 million, we’re still no closer to mass market appeal for premium subscriptions.  And yet we have a host of new entrants including, MOG, Spotify Premium, We7 Premium, Sky Songs, Virgin Media etc etc.

So what’s changed? Well, both a little and a lot.

The niche audience is getting bigger. Firstly, the appeal for premium subscriptions is still a niche addressable audience of tech savvy music aficionados, but that audience is growing. It’s still far from mass market (and never will be) but it’s a more attractively scaled base now.  A few million per major music market perhaps. For a company like MOG that’s plenty enough addressable market. Also improvements in consumer technology and connectivity make it easier to deliver a high quality on-the-go cloud based experience, a crucial asset.

New routes to market. Perhaps the most important change though is that numerous new channel partners are emerging that can help shoulder the to-consumer cost.  ISPs, mobile operators, device manufacturers, even brands all are becoming realistic partners for subsidizing premium subscriptions, in turn reducing the price point to an extent where appeal is much broader.  The music industry is waking up to the fact
that a recurring household music purchasing relationship is much more valuable and secure than ad hoc individual spending and illegal downloading.

MOG has an additional crucial asset: the service is inherently social.  Regular readers will recall that I posted about the concept of ‘putting the crowd in the cloud’, that social interconnectivity in cloud based services will become a crucial component of music discovery and engagement. MOG joins those dots.

Those assets alone though may not be enough. If MOG is to steal serious market share in the UK it will do well to investigate the unique
range telco partnership opportunities that the UK presents due to the government’s strong(ish) stance on making telcos partners in tackling music piracy. A subsidized MOG service from BT, integrated into their IPTV boxes and xBoxes, for example, would be a really enticing prospect.

(And a sign of the times, MOG is being talked about as a potential ‘Spotify-killer’….whatever happened to being an ‘iTunes-killer’…they’re still the ones that own three quarters of the premium digital music business…)