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Sunday, November 20, 2011

If £8 for 90,000 Spotify plays isn't enough, what is?


"Got paid £8 for 90,000 plays. Fuck Spotify." That was a tweet the other day from the musician/producer Jon Hopkins. You can see how opening an envelope containing that royalty statement might catch you on the raw. Apparently an increasing number of smaller labels are removing their music from the streaming service because the revenues aren't worth it and they fear that it could have a detrimental effect on the sales of their CDs.

I'm not seeking to press Spotify's case but how big would the cheque have to be to make Jon Hopkins think it was worth persevering with them. Double? Triple? Ten times bigger? At what point does it seem about the right sum of money? Presumably at a point where Spotify decide they no longer want to deal with the Jon Hopkins of the world and will stick to Lady Gaga.

This kind of thing's happening all the time at the moment. In the days of scarce physical product prices were high and the winners could make money. Now we're in the world of digital product, frictionless communication and limitless supply even the rest of the field are achieving numbers and numbers make people think they should be earning money which is commensurate with those numbers. But it doesn't work like that. Writers are getting paid far less money (if they're getting any money at all) to have their work read by far more people on a blog than they would have got for having it read by a relatively small readership in a paid paper product.

Nobody knows anymore what the numbers signify. Presumably those 90,000 plays aren't the equivalent of 90,000 plays on a radio station big or small. (With traditional mechanical payments you get a lot more for having your song played on Radio Two than you would for having it played on a small local station.) Presumably 90,000 represents the number of times any one individual has accessed the stream on which the artist's song can be found. What's the average number of individuals it would take to generate that kind of activity? This 90,000 presumably includes a handful of people who listen to one song obsessively and a lot more people who just click once out of curiosity and never go back. It's not 90,000 fans. It's not even 90,000 listeners. It's 90,000 clicks.

If you sold 90,000 records you might expect to have done quite well. And you'd have reason to believe that you might be on your way to selling 250,000 records. You'd be some kind of a hit. If you'd had your record played just once on a radio station with 90,000 listeners you'd expect to get, well, eight pounds?