John, Paul, George and Ringo gave everyone in streaming music the same Christmas gift this year, but it's Spotify that will probably cherish it most. The Beatles, still one of the best-selling acts in the music industry more than 45 years after their breakup, announced Wednesday that their catalog, at long last, will be coming to nine streaming music services starting Christmas Eve. Within hours, those same services began gleefully trumpeting the news, with some, like Google Play Music, launching 30-second spots that we’ll soon be seeing on TV.
There are several very good reasons why the Beatles and Universal Music, their record label, are finally moving to streaming, including shifts in fan behavior and the systemic decline of album sales. But unlike their move to downloads, which was an enormous boon to Apple, the band’s move to streaming offers a tacit endorsement and blessing of streaming as a model, something that benefits the space’s market leader — Spotify — more than anyone else.
The last time the Beatles got with the times and put their catalog on a new service — specifically, the iTunes Music Store in 2010 — they did so with an exclusive deal. That exclusivity appears to be finally ending, as the Beatles' albums will be available for download on Google Play, as well. But at the time, it gave iTunes a dependable way to lure in uncertain consumers who were used to buying CDs.
More important, the Beatles’ arrival on iTunes, seven years after it launched, essentially validated the service, both for the industry and for consumers, showing it was here to stay.
Wednesday’s announcement doesn’t quite do that. There is no question that streaming is quickly becoming the dominant mode of music consumption. But it’s possible the announcement could do something else: help attract older consumers unsure about the ability to get the music they’re most familiar with from these services.
Many of the services recognize that already — Apple Music and Rhapsody, to name just two, have gone after older listeners with specific ads and features — but for Spotify, Tidal, Rhapsody and Deezer, the stakes are higher. Neither Apple nor Google needs streaming to succeed; they only offer it as a way to induce people to continue buying their other products or using their other services. Spotify, however, has no other products, and moving forward, it will need that goodwill from consumers to continue growing and winning over skeptics, more so than its larger rivals.
But while the Beatles’ move might change some consumers’ minds, it’s unlikely to have much of an effect on the artists and labels that continue to hold their music off these services.
“The means of compensation offered by the streaming services out there is not, to our mind, fair compensation for the music,” Drag City sales manager Rian Murphy told Music Week earlier this year. “Tenths and hundredths of a penny on a dollar for song plays is really just something that was made up.
“You really have to be Rihanna or somebody like that in order to actually see a check of any significant worth," Murphy continued. "Even then, for the amount of plays that it represents and the number of people who have actually heard the song, it seems ridiculous and we can’t buy into that.”