Freebooters, Nostalgics, Renaissants & Media Urchins

Napsters Streaming Music Service

Napster's Streaming Music Service

Sky Songs – a new music service, in beta naturally, which offers a streaming service similar to Spotify for a little over 6 quid a month, has over 4m tracks AND you get to download 15 tracks to keep. Now that seems like the perfect model – a decent balance of streaming everything, a reasonable monthly charge AND you get a few favourites to keep. So why has Spotify cornered the market as the “plat du jour” of the streaming music services? How did it manage to get the drop on and since its adoption of a download costing model (all neatly synched with partner 7Digital) … will it really start being a threat to iTunes music store?

Indeed it’s easy to see what next – live gig tickets link up. TV episodes over streaming subscription. Films. You name it. A decent subscription service with hefty bandwidth allowance might be the model for consuming all our media in the not very distant future.

However there is perhaps a mindset to overcome. This is possibly encapsulated by a famous Douglas Adams quote:

“Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

And I think this could be quite pertinent to the furore and upheavals around how we consume music in the 21st century. If we split it by age, in my mind, it goes something like this:

  • 20sthgs – think music should be free & disposable. Avoid all DRM or payment models where possible.
  • 30sthgs – think most music should be free to sample – you buy only as & when. Will either avoid or hack DRM.
  • 40sthgs – need to own it. Don’t mind paying. Not happy about DRM; but don’t sweat it. Owning the music’s the thing.
  • 50 & 60sthgs – do whatever is free at the moment. Probably won’t buy very much – but then again respect the value in owning something and paying for it. Unlikely to hack DRM or download from Piratebay. They like the idea of internet radio (e.g. or spotify or just listen to online radio stations from the BBC or other providers) Possibly it reminds them of how they first got exposed to music through Radio 1 … or even the less establishment run stations such as Radio Caroline and Radio Luxembourg.

So why is this the case? My opinion is it breaks down into the following demographics and the reasons behind it … it’s not perfect I know, I myself don’t fit neatly into any one demographic BUT it’s food for thought!

For those in their late 30s – 40s, CDs were a big thing; expensive, very hard to rip at quality ( the awful home taping era) and this group probably went through a big transition of re-buying all their cherished LPs on CD. Some may even still treat their iPod like an extended mix tape! They have a strong urge to own & possess CDs, DVDs, old collectible comics, old Star Wars figures, retro movie posters and other nostalgia etc

For those now in their mid 20 – early 30s, CDs have always been cheap. Technology to rip & copy at decent quality has pretty much also always been there. They have embraced networked & shared media – Flickr, Spotify, Kazaa, Limewire, Napster, Rapidshare, Piratebay, iPlayer, internet Radio players, Scrobblers etc They download films, music, games you name it. Pretty much get it free if they can; but may pay for really good / rare stuff or just to get ahead of their peers.

For those in their late `teens – mid 20s it never occurs NOT to download. rip. copy

For those in their early 50s – 60s, they possibly missed some of the big wave of converting LPs to CDs … and the download revolution may have similarly passed them by. Quite happy to have a more personalised radio approach … might rip a few old CDs or perhaps find old stuff online that they always meant to buy on CD/LP but never got round to it (think the comprehensive classic Jazz or Folk collections now available, remastered and cheap!) Possibly the most open to the possibilities and at the moment an untapped market. If the services can make it easy and relatively good value for money this demographic could make a big difference – as the Collectors are at saturation point while the Freebooters & Urchins continue to bootleg all they want.

I’m still convinced that the model is the right way to go with a balance of streaming, value for money and ownership. It’s probably only a matter of time for Spotify to catch up … it has the brand & momentum for now. But if it doesn’t replicate what I perceive as the perfect balance from Sky, which caters to all the demographics above, then Spotify might miss the boat. Brand or not. Napster, previous “enfant terrible” of the peer-to-peer download services, already have something very similar for a fiver a month … and rumour has it a Google audio service is ready to launch imminently. But will any of them reach the ‘magic million’ number of paying subscribers? Whatever happens it will be an interesting ride over the next 18 months or so – just hold on to your headphones!

© R M Lippiett 2009

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Thursday, October 22nd, 2009 livemusic, music, opinions