It’s become a cliché of music/tech journalism to point out that downloading is doomed, streaming is the future, and all music will soon be available in the cloud. I’ve said it myself, a number of times.
But is it true? There’s some evidence to suggest that labels are losing faith with free streaming. Consequently, streaming sites themselves are being forced to scale back their ambitions.
Suede: not available on Spotify
This morning We7 announced a shift in strategy: it will focus on being a Last.fm-style personalized radio player, offering less choice, but more in the way of recommendation.
It’s no wonder: the cost of hosting all those tracks, and paying royalties on each stream, must be eye-watering.
Meanwhile, gaps keep appearing in Spotify’s catalogue. Suede’s music disappeared just in time for their new ‘Best Of’. Being a ridiculous 80s-obsessed buffoon, I notice that Bon Jovi’s old albums have all gone, too, replaced by just the Greatest Hits.
Eminem’s ‘Recovery’ was initially available to premium Spotify users only (as pointed out by Billboard), but now it’s been yanked completely. Pendulum’s ‘Immersion’ is available only as a five-track sampler (probably for the best, in fairness).
If you’re masochistic enough to watch Glee regularly, you’ll have noticed the tracks featured in the show (both the covers and the originals) are nowhere to be found on Spotify, thanks to an exclusivity deal with iTunes.
It’s obvious what’s going on here: labels are withholding certain tracks/albums from streaming services, in a bid to encourage us to buy/download them instead.
This is not what we expect from Spotify. Labels want the site to succeed because it helps combat piracy. Meanwhile, Spotify needs to drive subscriptions to survive (no-one seriously believes the ad-funded model is sustainable).
But no-one’s going to upgrade if the catalogue is full of holes. And it wasn’t exactly exhaustive to begin with. No Led Zeppelin, no Beatles, no AC/DC, no Metallica? It’s hardly the celestial jukebox.
When Apple enters the cloud music market (potentially elbowing Spotify aside in the process), it may have the clout to resolve these disputes. They’ll be able to bully labels into making their entire catalogue available.
But right now there’s a yawning gap between what the technology is capable of, and what record labels are willing to give us. That approach may help defend profits in the short term.
But it makes no sense in the long-term. Ultimately the music industry will benefit from everything being in the cloud, permanently.