No music startup has generated an operating profit in 20 years. Not Pandora, not Spotify.
The largest cost and greatest obstacle for music-streaming services like these is the the cost of the music they play, while prioritizing growth over profitability. Spotify pays out 70-80% of its revenue to rights holders for its on-demand service, and Pandora about 50% of its revenue for the radio-like service it currently offers.
But music startups all across the board are struggling. More than half of 2013’s most promising music startups no longer exist.
Why are music startups struggling to thrive, or even simply survive?
In this episode, we examine several perspectives to understand why the space for music startups is so
unforgiving, and what music startups can do to be successful.
Cortney Harding, a digital music consultant, discusses the recent slowdown in the music startup space. Edward Ginis and Brady Brim-DeForest, share of the bootstrapping approach that’s worked for OpenPlay. David Pakman of Venrock explains why his firm has never invested in a digital media company, while Jon Vanhala, formerly of Universal Music and now at Crossfade Partners, offers insight into who can be blamed for the fact that music startups are finding it so hard to make money. But it’s not all bad news. Music isn’t going away, it’s an essential aspect of the human experience. Our episode concludes with Michael Dorf, who tapped into the value of the live music experience and his own love of wine. Michael is generating more profit than he ever did in the digital music business while operating and growing his City Winery locations across the country.
On today’s Monday Reading List: Music Business Worldwide tells us why this week will be so important for the industry, Taylor Swift and Apple join forces (again), a new study suggests that streaming might actually help record sales, and the RZA considers stealing back the Wu-Tang album that recently sold for millions.
Adele’s highly anticipated album, 25, releases November 20th, but questions still remain. Will she release 25 on Spotify and other streaming platforms on the same day as the physical release, or will she bait more sales by staggering the release on streaming platforms?
Another week, another batch of industry news and long reads for our Monday Reading List. On this week’s list Pandora gets dealt another tough blow, The Economist theorizes on the age of music festival-goers, Bandcamp makes some changes in pay structure, and Music Business Worldwide says what we were all thinking about new streaming service/device the Electric Jukebox. Then, because here at Musonomics, we can’t ignore that hotline when it blings, artist James Turrell confirms that neither he, nor his woes, had anything to do with Drake’s “Hotline Bling” video.
Check out this week’s Monday Reading List after the jump.
Yesterday Pandora announced the acquisition of Next Big Sound (NBS), a company that specializes in monitoring the popularity of music on social media and the internet at large. It’s a big move for Pandora, as they follow suit with Apple and Spotify, who both acquired similar companies last year.
For anyone watching the music analytics space and here at Musonomics, this is a big deal. What does this mean for Pandora? Data, and improved music recommendations for Pandora’s 79 million users. Information is invaluable to streaming services and what started as a side project for founder Alex White and his partners while they were at Northwestern has quickly turned into one of the industry leaders in music analytics. More important is what it might mean for NBS’s many clients throughout the music industry. Although a Pandora representative said that there would be “no immediate changes” in how NBS works with its existing clients, after Spotify acquired the Echo Nest last year, Rdio and many other EchoNest clients who compete with Spotify immediately dropped the Echo Nest from their roster of data providers.
The biggest surprise of all is who the buyer wasn’t — Nielsen, a company that has enjoyed a virtual monopoly on US music sales data since its acquisition of SoundScan, and has been growing its arsenal of complementary data services on music sales and downloads, radio listening and music broadcast on radio.
In his New York Times story on the acquisition of NBS, Ben Sisario mentioned Pandora’s frosty relationship with the music industry over the rates it pays for music. It is unclear how NBS will help on that front. But it won’t hurt.
A new Morgan Stanley assessment of Pandora paints a bleak picture of the company’s future. By 2017, rising royalty costs and plummeting stock prices could force Pandora to seek “up to $350 million” in financing. Pandora might never become profitable, let alone make it to 2021.
What could that mean for other streaming platforms? Interestingly, Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swineburn posits that a Pandora disappearance could signal an uptick in paid streaming subscribers:
“…if not for Pandora, some material percentage of its 80 million active listeners would pay $10 per month for subscription services…”