Rather quickly, Amazon’s music streaming platform went from a limited Prime supplement into potentially one of the most diverse music streaming platforms (in terms of price and
ability to sell other products). That’s why it should be concerning that along with Spotify, Amazon appealed the recent Copyright Royalty Board ruling to increase songwriter payments. A reason I highlighted Pandora’s sorted history of fighting back against the Copyright Royalty Board
was to emphasize the repeated pattern of private companies exploiting musicians that’s foundational to the business of music streaming. Yet, if Amazon, a company worth (at points) one trillion dollars, would use the same desperate tactics that should be a concern. That’s why it was distressing to read this unnamed industry insider quote in Music Business Worldwide last month
Amazon will have every tier of recorded music covered, from free streaming through to limited catalog via Prime, a full ‘Spotify rival’ in Music Unlimited and a hi-definition service – in addition to vinyl, CD, merch and more….With Amazon making this move, it feels like a positive step for consumer pricing flexibility, and good news for streaming ARPU generally. Spotify has just been outmaneuvered.
Even at one’s most optimistic, I struggle to see how musicians aren’t also the ones being “outmaneuvered” in this scenario, where so much of the music business funnels through a single private company. Earlier this week, Music Ally reported on Paul Sampson, the CEO of Lickd, at the Great Escape Conference sharing a similarly concerning thought
Amazon and Apple’s streaming services are loss-leaders for them. If they can get you into their ecosystem, they can make money off you as a consumer in ten other ways…Spotify has to make this work, and if they haven’t raised their prices it’s because Apple and Amazon can afford to cut theirs…
The music industry is experiencing a venture capital-fueled bubble, where wealth concentrates at the top, but it’s ultimately just prolonging the fact that the current model isn’t sustainable. Last year, Sarah Jaffe, an excellent labor reporter, explored the value of nationalizing Amazon
, as the company further ingrains itself into particularly American life. This isn’t the first call
for such an effort
, but Jaffe felt strongest in exploring the pitfalls, by seeing the value in the service it provides without all the profit funneling upward towards Jeff Bezos. That reasoning is what inspired me to write a bit on the American Music Library
, Henderson Cole’s rough outline of a nationalized music streaming service. If people in the industry see a company like Amazon as a privately owned one-stop for all music consumption, perhaps it’d be better if such a business wasn’t motivated to fight against wage increases by songwriters.
If Amazon is able to offer all of these different bundles of music streaming across physical devices and eat away at all into the pie of Apple, Spotify, and YouTube, that should be a red flag for the industry. Recently, workers at Amazon started to protest over the issue of climate change
and are seeing early signs of progress
. If an increasing number of digital and physical distribution are wrapped up in one company (with many sites built on Amazon Web Services), then it may be musicians and average record label workers that, in a vacuum of collective actions, hope such activists shed a light on what may be the bleak path of their industry.