The following MBW column comes from Eamonn Forde (inset photo), a London-based music industry journalist and author of The Last Days of EMI: Selling the Pig. His new book, Leaving the building: the lucrative afterlife of musical fieldsis now available through Omnibus Press.
In Japanese culture, there is the concept of tsundoku. This means that when someone buys so many books, just reading them becomes overwhelming. So they sit without reading as more books are added to the tottering piles, the bibliomaniac empty behind bars.
Tsundoku Usually relates to tangible objects, but it seems increasingly relevant in the age of subscription streaming.
Example: this did not happen enough Againbut I am this close to cancel my Netflix subscription.
The loss of my £6.99 a month isn’t going to, I imagine, dent Netflix’s share price. This will not, I presume, trigger an emergency board meeting at Netflix headquarters.
If I cancel, I will surely receive passive-aggressive (automated) emails and push notifications asking me to reconsider or telling me [name of hot new show here] just “dropped” and I won’t be able to see it unless it comes back into the Netflix fold.
The decision to think about maybe considering canceling my subscription is unrelated to a price hike in the cost of subscription, where Netflix added £1 to my bill from April this year.
The decision to think about maybe considering canceling my subscription is due to the fact that my viewing on Netflix is temperamental to say the least.
It’s entirely my fault, of course. It’s not Netflix, it’s me.
Some months I give it a decent rattle and watch a fair amount (I choose not to ‘gorge’, thank you) of what’s on offer despite Netflix having one of the least intuitive search and discovery interfaces on all major multimedia products in the world. Honestly it’s shocking.
His algorithm seems less based on taste and affinity and more on generating a sense of FOMO: “It’s number 1 in the UK NOW and you’ll be a figure of ridicule if you don’t watch everything immediately. “
I’m okay with being a figure of ridicule. I made peace with that part of my life.
Then other months, my account accumulates digital dust. Sometimes it takes two or three months before I think about spending 10 rambling minutes trying to find something I could watch. I sigh as another £5.99 (now £6.99) is taken from my bank account as a tax on my indolence, recklessness and indecisiveness.
I’m lazy so I probably won’t cancel… quite still.
All of this – and the recent hype about Netflix losing 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter while Disney+ added 7.9 million new subscribers in the same period – raises the arguments around media saturation and of attention decline.
But I soon got tired of thinking about it and instead thought about how Netflix and all the other subscription services could hold on to waverers like me.
These services are all built on what they consider to be an alluring premise, offering us anything we can “eat” from their catalogs for a fixed price each month. On paper, it’s a hell of a deal. In reality, this presents us with an existential conundrum of inconsistency.
There are months when it seems like the deal of the year. And there are months when it feels like the streaming media equivalent of a three-card Monte.
“The fixation in the DSP world is currently on growth at all costs; that’s why no one will raise the prices. But there has to be planning when the market hits a saturation point or when people start checking how many subscriptions they have and making cold decisions to get rid of the ones they use the least.
Netflix managed to increase its price and not enough lose myself, but there will inevitably be a tipping point or breaking point – even a breaking point – where Netflix will eventually make the decision for me to cancel. Eventually, I’ll get tired of paying for something I rarely and sporadically use. Like it was a lawnmower. Or a tampon. Or a wedding dress.
There will surely be Spotify and Apple Music subscribers in a boat similar to the one I drift aimlessly on through the vast expanse of the Netflix content ocean. They are paying for something now, but there will be growing suspicion that they are not getting the most out of it. A few hours here and there a month doesn’t feel like a subscription is at its best. A library of 80 million songs is irrelevant if you only spend a few hours, some months, munching on it.
There is, for some, a huge disparity in volume and value.
If Netflix changed their price to, say, £2.99 a month but limited me to, say, 10 hours of streaming a month, I’d be happy to pay it and stick with them. £5.99 would still get me unlimited streaming, but if I was on my £2.99 tier and went over my 10 hours a month I would have the option, like a bolted mobile data plan, to pay a little more to exceed my monthly allowance.
The All-or-Nothing subscription model really needs to be updated to an All-something-less-than-something-or-nothing subscription model. There needs to be flexible pricing that understands that not everyone consumes in the same way or to the same extent.
More thought needs to be given to what we can begin to understand as two-way retention pricing: how far can you drop the price so that it still makes economic sense for both parties to have a wandering consumer every few months , watch a little then leave?
Here, the arithmetic of ARPU needs to be rethought as attention retention per user.
These services can see which users are voracious in their streaming and which are grabbing it, pushing shows or music around their plate and getting nothing done. Pickers are those most at risk of leaving. So how do they keep them from leaving?
Right now, there are more new subscribers coming in than old ones leaving, so there’s no need to worry about picky consumers leaving. but any fixation on platform growth hurts the long-term problem of subscribers exiting the system and the reasons why they exit the system.
If they don’t reach out to these people, the decline, when it occurs, could be far greater than they dare to anticipate.
Maybe it’s time to revisit how electronic music works, understanding that some consumers consume more than others, so they’ve created different tiers based on a user’s voracity or insight.
There was also bloom.fm trying this tiered access model in the early 2010s, but it was somewhat confusing/confusing and it lost too much ground as Spotify progressed. There is something, however, that a market-leading service with many years of user data at its fingertips, rather than a niche player living day-to-day with its funding, could take away.
The fixation in the DSP world is currently on growth at all costs; that’s why no one will raise the prices. But there has to be planning when the market hits a saturation point or when people start checking how many subscriptions they have and making cold decisions to get rid of the ones they use the least.
For digital music subscribers, the sinking feeling of tsundoku is it is not so much a question of giving way under the cruelty of volume as of being quietly crushed by the fallacy of value.The music industry around the world