Ownership, Access, Availability

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In the 20th century, ownership of copies of musical works became the primary way to make our favorite music available to us, at any time. It became such a strong standard, that instead of saying that people were buying copies of musical works, we conflated it to ‘buying music’. No end consumer has ever paid for music though. I’ll explain.

At the turn of the last century, the availability of your favorite music depended mainly on your own ability to play an instrument or that of those around you. When performing live, they could ‘sell’ music as a temporary experience. Then came the copy and people started paying for sheet music, records and later CDs and MP3s.

A new type of availability has arrived recently and has mushroomed in the last 2 years; on-demand music streaming. One reason for its popularity is that for many people, it’s more convenient than having to store their music collection somewhere. This creates a big chance to finally effectively compete with unlicensed services, while making it easier for artists to connect with their fans.

Since the summer, we’ve been witnessing a clear trend which I’ve nicknamed the ‘rage against the stream‘. Label after label started pulling content from streaming services, citing concerns about sales cannibalization and creative visions about how people should listen to music. As someone trained in marketing, I prefer to look at the consumer before I look at the business model. The market rewards those that most succeed at fulfilling consumers’ demands.

Consumer demand is not ownership. It’s availability.

Ownership can be great, but through DRM and lawsuits against people that shared music with friends and family, consumers have been trained to believe that the prime value of ownership is personal availability. The fulfillment of that prime value is conveniently replaced through access models and thus people are flocking to subscription services – or spending hours a day on YouTube.

So if you’re in the business of ‘selling music’, ask yourself “what can I provide ownership of that will have value beyond availability?”

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