Kanye West And The Streaming Arms Race
Kanye West sometimes gets himself in trouble with what he says on Twitter. Now, one of his tweets may get used against him in court.
Back in February, he tweeted that his new album, The Life Of Pablo, would only be available on Tidal, the streaming music service in which he owns a stake, and "never never never" on Apple.
Well, "never never never" lasted about six weeks: You can now listen to The Life of Pablo on both Apple Music and Spotify. And this week, a lawsuit was filed in federal court alleging that listeners were tricked into signing up for Tidal.
To put that news in the context of the broader conversation around how music is heard and paid for, NPR's Kelly McEvers spoke to Marc Hogan, senior staff writer at Pitchfork (who has reported on the story there). You can hear the radio version at the audio link, and read more of their conversation below.
Kelly McEvers: What do we know about the details of this lawsuit? Who is suing Kanye West?
Marc Hogan: Basically, a regular person; I think he's a school teacher. But, it's a proposed class action. So it's a fan of Kanye West who is suing Tidal and Kanye West and Jay Z — who owns Tidal — basically on behalf of the fans who were supposedly tricked into signing up for Tidal to hear the album.
It seems like a lot of people were annoyed; you know, they put their credit card information in and they signed up for Tidal when they could have just waited. I guess the question is, is that worthy of a lawsuit?
That's kind of up to the court to find out! But it was almost inevitable. It seemed like one of those things where, when he goes out and he says, "never never never " — I love the three "never"s — when you say that, and then you reverse on it, and people have been giving their credit card info, someone is going to sue you nowadays. So, it's only a matter of time, I guess.
With all these streaming services, it seems like there is kind of an arms race for the exclusive, to find a way to stand out among the competition. How does that fit into the new business model in music?
It's really fascinating. You do have an arms race with the exclusives for streaming services. You know, Tidal is not just Kanye; they had a Rihanna exclusive. Drake's new album is coming out exclusively on Apple Music. But what's fascinating is that Spotify, which still has the most paid subscribers — I believe it's 30 million — they don't really play the exclusives game.
So does that mean that the exclusive thing really isn't necessarily a business model that's going to work going forward?
The exclusives model does seem to be a way to stand out, especially if you're trying to compete with an already established player. I mean, when you look at the video space — Netflix or Amazon or even HBO — all of these services compete over exclusives, so it makes sense. But I don't know; when you think about music, the exclusives might still be a small sliver of overall music fans.
I wonder if this is just a different way to get people to spend money on something? I mean, you think back to paying $20 for a whole CD that really only has one good song on it.
Right. They're constantly trying to find new ways to get people to actually spend money for music because, of course, [people] haven't been. And yes, exclusives is one of the ways they thought of to try to say, "Hey, you can finally part with that credit card number." Although in the case of the Tidal situation, there was a trial subscription, so in lots of cases they maybe didn't actually even pay any money; they just gave up their data, which, that's what the lawsuit is partially about.
What's Kanye saying about all this?
I don't believe he has said anything publicly about it yet. I reached out to his camp for comment and I didn't hear anything back. I mean, he's always saying things — but the lawsuit, I don't think he has spoken about it. You know, Kanye does what Kanye wants, and it's just always fascinating to watch.
You just have to wonder how the next release will happen for him.
Yeah, what do you do? How do you follow this? This is an album that he's been kind of tinkering with after it was released, and then he keeps changing even where it is released. It's definitely unique.
Do you know what the next step in this lawsuit is?
I was just checking online today, and it looks like right now they're serving the papers to Kanye and Jay Z. So, good luck, I guess, finding them and serving the case to them!
I would love to know who that guy is, who gets to knock on the door.
Right. Bring a video camera and see what the reaction is.