It's become commonplace in some parts of the legacy content industries to hate on basically any successful internet service that brings creative content to the public in a way that people actually like. We see attacks on Spotify, Netflix, Pandora and more for "not paying enough," and demands from those companies that they need to pay more. As we've noted, this often takes the form of trying to kill the golden goose
. Almost always implicit in these discussions is the idea that the service itself
is worthless and that all of the value
comes from the content. That these services deserve to make any money at all is seen as some sort of insult to the copyright holders. The underlying belief here is that the service
part is easy.
But, of course, that's wrong. Lots of services try and fail to capture the public's imagination. The content is important (and all of these services pay huge amounts of money -- often way more than half of their revenue to the copyright holders) but building a service people actually want to use is not an easy task. When those who think otherwise jump in and think they can simply "build their own" such service, you hope they would slowly start to understand this point.
You may recall that Jay-Z recently bought and relaunched
a music streaming service, naming it Tidal. The whole rollout had severe issues, some of which Mike outlined in the post linked above (the lack of any
free tier), and some issues I had myself that dovetail with Tidal's entire marketing platform. You see, Tidal's message was all about how artist-friendly it would be, working itself into a froth over being the anti-Pandora/Spotify/Whatever service, which were all demonized as not paying artists nearly enough money for their music. Which, fine, whatever, it's a message of a sort, I suppose. But to roll that message out with marketing ads featuring insanely wealthy musicians
in designer clothes all getting together to talk about ushering in a new service designed to generate more money for themselves (and perhaps newer artists too)? Look, there's nothing wrong with being rich, but that's just bad PR.
And, after the first several weeks since its debut, it seems like Tidal is less a wave and more a ripple
Tidal is now the 50th most popular music app in the iTunes store, and doesn't even crack the top 700 overall. Any hot new app will see a big drop in downloads after the hype from its launch dies down, but it doesn't look like Tidal was all that hot to begin with. It briefly peaked at #19 overall before falling out of the top 200 less than two weeks later.
Meanwhile, its competitors are surging: Pandora is at #7, Spotify is at #34, and Beats Music just broke the top 50. Even circa-2013 Spotify challenger Rdio is seeing more downloads than Tidal this week.
Not a good showing, especially given all of the star-power behind it. But let's not treat this by dancing on any freshly dug graves. That would be premature anyway, since we are only talking about a couple of weeks worth of market time here. Regardless of that fact, what this should do is teach some artists an important lesson about the difficulty of providing a music streaming platform, the market forces that decided the winners and losers, and the value that a good streaming service brings both to customers and to artists alike.
The whole campaign against Pandora and Spotify has been insane since the very beginning. Streaming services that provide a useful way for customers and potential customers to find, listen to, and to become fans of artists and their work were demonized as greedy technocratic regimes designed solely to make sure singers didn't have enough bus-fare to get home at night. That was silly, of course, as one look at the amount of income those streaming services generate versus what artists wanted in terms of royalties, but the whole thing was really begging for a "If you think it's so easy, come up with your own service" rebuttal. Jay-Z tried to take this on. It's starting to look like he failed.
Failure is okay, but only if you learn from it. The very thing that Tidal failed to offer is what makes the other services so popular.
Some of Tidal’s problems were apparent to anyone who is not a wealthy member of the illuminati or close personal friend of Jay Z: its main value proposition was that, for only 10 dollars a month more than you’re paying for Spotify—that’s just two Starbucks lattes!—you can feed and clothe the famous multimillionaires you see on your screen. But it also had some less obvious flaws, like a very shittily-designed app with broken search functionality and a marketing message—attacking those other, non-artist-benefitting streaming services—that seems to have helped Spotify more than it helped Tidal.
Combined with no free tier, the single selling point for Tidal appeared to be appealing to the masses to use a service that pays artists more money than the others. It didn't work. Not because people do not want artists to succeed, but because the other services work better than Tidal and the artists pimping Tidal did nothing to connect with customers. It was a plea, entirely one-sided, with nothing additional offered to the customer. That's
the lesson: streaming services aren't as easy to do as these artists thought. Now let's see if they do anything with that lesson.