Keith Harris: Gifting Music - Streaming's Biggest Challenge?

12 Jan 2015

Pouring over the record industry’s end of year figures for 2014, what has stuck out most for me is the fact that physical album sales still account for 48.8% of all music consumed.

Whilst there has obviously been a rapid and significant move towards streaming, this remaining very high level of physical sales leaves the industry in a bit of a quandary.   It is clear that for the current recovery of the record industry to continue and gather pace, the move to online distribution of music is the key, but no business can afford to ignore 48.8% of its consumption.

As referenced in Tony Wadsworth’s MusicTank report, Remake Remodel: The Future Of The Record Label, the former EMI boss commented that “the trick for many [in the labels business] is in the balancing act of running two parallel businesses” – referencing both physical and digital formats.

It would seem to follow, then, that the record industry needs to encourage a faster move towards streaming.  Coming out of the Christmas period – one which is key to the level of music sales achieved in any given year – it occurs to me that something that would help to expedite the move towards streaming sales, would be more focus and attention given to methods of being able to gift music at this crucial sales time.

In order for that to become normal, it would seem that there will need to be some kind of interaction between the various streaming services or at least a way to make a paid-for playlist taken from one service easily playable on another.  It would be easier for people to give music without necessarily having to tie somebody down to any particular streaming service provider in particular.

It strikes me that since this would be a gift – and therefore by definition already paid-for – it would be great to have a paid-for option on each of the streaming services that allowed for this to happen.  It might be as simple as allowing a paid-for playlist to be directly imported into any portable device a restricted number of times.  There is little doubt in my mind that the high level of physical consumption is still a factor governed by the need for people to give music at Christmas, which is not adequately catered for in anything other than the physical form.

The other key observation arising out of the end of year industry sales figures is that for the first time, all ten of the Top 10 selling albums for the year were British.  This is obviously a really good performance by the UK music industry.

I would however issue a note of caution – that we remain vigilant enough to make sure that the British public is being exposed to the range and variety of music which is available internationally.  It is this diversity that has helped us to develop the eclectic range of musical tastes and that has allowed the British industry to be so creative over a period of many years.

If we spend too much time congratulating ourselves and not enough looking at the competition it is a recipe for complacency which could lead to a loss of the level of creativity which has driven the British industry to so much recent success.

Keith Harris – Chair, MusicTank / Director Performer Affairs, PPL / Keith Harris Music Ltd

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