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Digital Audio Insider is David Harrell's blog about the economics of music and other digital content. I write from the perspective of a musican who has self-released four albums with the indie rock band the Layaways.

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January 30, 2013

A Few Quick Thoughts on the NY Times Spotify Article
by David Harrell
Spotify Banner
I know I've promised a long-form post on Spotify, but in the meantime, some quick observations on this week's NY Times article on the economics of music streaming:

1. Mainstream press -- please don't conflate streaming services with personalized Internet radio ("...as listeners begin to move from CDs and downloads to streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and YouTube."). Spotify and Pandora are cousins, not siblings.

2. With all due respect to Sean Parker, the glory days of music sales in 1990s aren't coming back. It was a unique time, when consumers were willing to repurchase music they already owned (on LP and cassette) in a more-expensive format (CD). Even if a magical new format is rolled out, one that makes average consumers want to upgrade, my guess is that many of them would manage to acquire the content without paying for it.

3. To its credit, the article does mention (but doesn't emphasize) what I think is the most important point about the Spotify model -- the coupling of artist/label compensation with listener consumption, as opposed to consumers pre-paying for a lifetime of listening via the purchase of a download or CD:
"Unlike the royalties from a sale, these payments accrue every time a listener clicks on a song, year after year."
4. The per-play amounts paid to artists/labels are, as everyone knows, quite small. As noted in the article, self-released artist Zoe Keating reports an average payment of 0.42 cents per play. When you adjust that number for the 9% commission she pays to CD Baby, you end with 0.47 cents, which is almost identical to the most recent numbers I've posted here for Spotify plays of the Layaways.

Should Spotify pay more? In an ideal world it would, but the company is currently paying 70% of its revenue to rights holders and publishers. In addition to the freebie service, it offers two subscription tiers in the U.S. -- $4.99 a month for an ad-free service and $9.99 a month premium service with higher sound quality and a mobile option. Based on a 0.47 cents figure (and assuming that the current mix of free, $4.99, and $9.99 subscribers remained stable) Spotify would need to increase its U.S. subscription prices to $10.62 and $21.26 to accommodate a one cent per-play payout.

That larger number is still less than the $30 that Sam Broe, the 26-year-old music fan quoted at the beginning of the article, used to spend each month on music purchases before becoming a Spotify subscriber. But would he -- and other current/potential Spotify subscribers -- be willing to pay it?

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    THE LAYAWAYS

    Out Now -- "Maybe Next Year" -- The New Holiday Album:

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