This industry has been obsessed with signing every catalog, winning every artist, and amassing millions of songs for the perfectly complete service. And part of the reason is that the people building these services are die-hard music fans themselves. And therefore, completely different from the mass consumer being chased.
Which raises a critical question:
Do consumers really care about having every last song at their fingertips, millions of songs deep?
The answer is that some do, others think they do, but most don’t. And overall, this matters far less than the industry thinks.
Reality tells us this; just look at the biggest subscription services on the planet. The largest in music is Sirius XM Radio, which boasts 24.4 million subscribers. That is, four times the subscriber base of Spotify, 8 times the size of Deezer, and 24 times that of Rhapsody.
Sirius has selection, and even Pandora-like stations. But you’re not picking the songs, playlisting, or otherwise DJing with millions of deep tracks. You’re driving, working, reading, sleeping, or doing something else, while someone else is curating an ultimately limited selection.
Similar patterns are emerging in TV. Netflix, for example, now boasts 29.2 million subscribers, yet they don’t even have the last season of your favorite show. Which means people are comfortable navigating huge potholes in content. And if you’re binging on a series, these are craters in the earth.
Indeed, Netflix is now bigger than HBO, the wise teacher in this game. Because HBO has acheived its near-29 million on the strength of unmatched, original content, with far less emphasis on ‘licensing everything’. Yet once upon a time, decades ago, HBO was trying to license every movie that mattered, and paying handsomely to do it. Just like Netflix.
It was a losing game. And if you’ve checked out House of Cards, you can see that Netflix is pulling a page out of HBO’s well-strategized playbook.
So, Spotify should be more like Netflix, Sirius, and HBO? No, it shoudn’t, at all, because every fan is different and music is complicated. Some, especially early adopters, want deep tracks and obscure remixes, and those people are important. But most aren’t going down that rabbit hole: they rarely chase obscure artists or react to genome-spliced suggestions. Even Pandora, which gives lip service to genoming songs, has a very limited catalog and lots of repetition.
Yet Pandora has more than 200 million registered users.
On top of all that, users don’t even know what they want. Perhaps a reader (@hippydog) said it best in a recent article, quoting ideas from Freakanomics. Many consumers will say they want everything, but actually don’t. And all you have to do is look at virtually any chart from any ‘comprehensive’ streaming service. Because even with the widest selection imaginable, the world’s chosen playlist is amazingly thin.