That Digital Music Service You Love Is a Terrible Business

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes an article from Fortune:
Rdio goes bankrupt, Pandora hangs out a ‘For Sale’ sign and then gets rid of its CEO, artists and labels ramp up their criticism of YouTube. Now we have Tidal in acquisition talks with Apple, while Spotify complains about Apple treating it unfairly… the digital music business is becoming an industry in which only a truly massive company with huge scale and deep pockets can hope to compete… Rdio went bankrupt last year in large part because it couldn’t afford to make the licensing payments the record industry requires of streaming services. Deezer, a European service, postponed a planned initial public offering partly because its business is financially shaky for the same reason… [Rhapsody] is still racking up massive losses… Spotify has found it almost impossible to make money, primarily because of onerous licensing payments…
[A]ll the available evidence seems to show that the digital-music business, at least the way it is currently structured, simply isn’t economic. The only way for anyone to even come close to making it work is to make it part of a much larger company, like Apple or Amazon or Google. That way they can absorb the losses, they have the heft to negotiate with the record industry, and they can find synergies with their other businesses. In other words, music as a standalone business appears to be dead, or at least on life support.
The article links to an essay by a former eMusic CEO arguing high royalty rates make it impossible to have a profitable business, and the music industry “buried more than 150 startups — now they are left to dance with the giants.”


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