Balancing Exclusivity

Artists come in many different forms, work in different disciplines and ultimately have different goals for what they create. With this, there are still some universally shared experiences and aspects of this life. Eventually, every Artists will be asked to work for “exposure” (don’t). They will be asked something to the tune of “why don’t you do something that’ll make money?” (we’re too busy working for exposure).

There also the issue of content management. The questions of when to post your work, what platforms to use, if/how you should promote beforehand, etc. are a few examples of the strategic aspect of content creation. Which brings me to Jay-Z.

Even someone who has been as great at what they do for as long as Jay-Z has occasionally has to navigate the issue of how his content will be dispersed. When Jay-Z acquired Tidal, we heard a lot about exclusive drops and its $20/month price tag.

The idea was to create a clear incentive to subscribe to Tidal with the promise of exclusive content. It didn’t resonate. Other Artists gave Apple, Spotify and other streaming services the same release because they didn’t have nearly the investment in the platform Jay-Z had. Tidal struggled.

The one exception being Beyonce, who, outside of a visual album on HBO, gave a Tidal exclusive. Yes, it did bring a lot of new users, but it also brought back music piracy.  The major advantage of embracing digital streaming is that the incentive to steal music is no longer there. However, with Lemonade’s release, it took the fluidity of choosing how to receive the music away from the audience, creating a “need” to steal it.

4:44 is an album that I thoroughly enjoy. With this album, it was offered to Tidal (and Sprint customers) first, but not exclusively. The album was given to other streaming services, except Spotify, a week later. This is a more viable content strategy.

The move still creates a clear incentive to use Tidal, but it leaves reasonable alternatives. All the listens that were pirated from Lemonade are being heard on Apple Music now. I am now seeing far more screenshots of Tidal’s platform on social media than I have before. I am not sure if this is an increase in trials or subscriptions, but either way it is increased usage that has a far better chance of retaining users.

It also makes Tidal a more secure place for other Artists to drop their work exclusively in a similar way, knowing all their eggs are not in the same basket and combining it with the added benefit of earning more per listen for their music on Tidal. Adding more exclusive material will be important given that it is their angle. Jay-Z and Beyonce can’t drop an album every year, let alone every month. However, two or three dozen Artists could.

There is also the matter of offering a $9.99 option, which I didn’t even know about until 4:44’s release. That’s obviously a big deal. I’m probably late on that. Try not to judge me.

The lesson I take here: people value exclusive content, but it has a breaking point. There is a balance between creating an incentive and forcing the audience to consume content a certain way, the latter of which will always see some degree of rejection. The key is to manage your work in a way that gives consumers options. As a creator, you deserve to have control over the distribution, but remember it’s also meant to be shared. Give your audience some choice.


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