Consumers will wait longer for their favorite music to hit free streaming sites, as the music industry increasingly “windows” new releases to prevent services like Spotify from cannibalizing album sales.
Popular artists like Adele and Coldplay are withholding some of their newer music from free, streaming music services like Rhapsody and Spotify, signaling record labels intend to imitate movie studios in delaying or withholding material from streaming outlets. But the move is a controversial one, aggravating increasingly influential streaming services and reigniting the debate over piracy.
Hollywood popularized the practice of “windowing” movies, launching them first on DVD and then waiting at least a month before releasing them to streaming and DVD rental services like Netflix. The practice allows movie studios to capitalize on fresh DVD sales, and the music industry is likely following suit.
Apple revolutionized the music industry with the iPod and iTunes, but as a result, the company exerts a degree of control over labels and artists. The move to withhold popular artists from free streaming services could be a gambit for music labels to exert increasing control over the digital landscape.
But iTunes also helped eliminate illegal music download services like Kazaa and Limewire, making new music cheap, convenient and accessible. The rise of iTunes led many consumers to avoid the risks of illegal downloading and fork over a dollar per song, reducing overall music piracy.
Rhapsody CEO Jon Irwin fears windowing could drive listeners back to piracy, arguing that withholding music from streaming services will push users toward unscrupulous means of acquiring the music.
“There are people who, if it’s not available on streaming, they’re going to steal it. They’re going to pirate it. They’re not going to go out and buy it.” Irwin says, adding that for artists, it could also “”potentially alienate (their) fan base.”
Artists get paid for songs played via free streaming services, but the royalty is merely a fraction of what they earn from album purchases and radio play. Still, streaming music sights often drive sales traffic, when listeners hear a song they like and later buy it, wishing to replay it where and when they want to.
The practice of “windowing” also comes as streaming services are gaining momentum among consumers. Services like Rhapsody generate less than 10 per cent of total digital revenues, but they are rapidly growing. Rhapsody recently exceeded three million users, and Spotify boasts over a million. Streaming services are expanding faster than download rates, meaning “you will eventually see those lines cross,” according to Steve Cooper of Warner Music.
Labels might want to think twice about following in Hollywood’s footsteps, since windowing isn’t working that well for the entertainment industry. Staggering movie premieres weeks and months apart drives eager viewers to get movies however they can. A lack of desirable options available on streaming services also contributes to users pirating material or worse: turning off the TV and doing something else altogether.
Still, Rhapsody and Spotify rely on content supplied by artists and labels as heavily as Netflix relies on studios to supply movies and TV shows. If windowing becomes a popular trend in the music industry, users could face wait times for new music equal to those for new movies, typically 28 days.
And while the entertainment industry sorts out their quarrels, some listeners might return to the age-old practice of recording radio broadcasts on cassette tapes.