Update: Well, that didn’t take long. While Tidal seems to be retaining its lock on streaming Lemonade, the New York Times is now reporting that it will be available on iTunes at midnight tonight—meaning Tidal’s exclusive on the album will last just over 24 hours.
The Verge reports that Beyoncé’s Lemonade, released last night, will only stream on the Tidal service “in perpetuity.” The service, a competitor to the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, is owned in part by Beyoncé’s husband Jay-Z, and has oriented its business around exclusives and other premium content.
However, the unnamed source’s claim that Lemonade will only ever stream on Tidal should be taken with a grain of salt. Kanye West, a longtime Jay-Z ally, recently released his album The Life of Pablo exclusively to the service, and insisted that it “will never never never be on Apple. And it will never be for sale.” But it became available on Pandora, Google (GOOG) Play, and Apple (APPL) Music within weeks. Drake’s Views from the 6, similarly, was an Apple Music exclusive for all of one week.
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There’s not much more reason to believe that exclusivity will hold for Lemonade.
That back-and-forth—it’s an exclusive, wait, no it isn’t—highlights just how uncertain the entire idea of music as exclusive content is. What artists earn from streaming on Tidal is significantly higher than from Spotify—but streaming payments are so low anyway that a Tidal exclusive probably has a negligible revenue impact either way for an artist like Beyoncé.
The stakes are a lot higher for Tidal itself, which is still working to gain its footing in a very tough business, with only about 3 million paid subscribers to Spotify’s 30 million. Personal relationships aside, they’re presumably paying a premium for exclusive content, and there are some indications that the strategy is paying off.
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But with genuine, long-term exclusivity, musicians’ relationships with fans becomes a bigger question. As the Verge points out, Beyoncé has a global fanbase of millions, if not billions, and many have no access to Tidal. Even where Tidal is available, though, it’s still unclear how fans feel about being forced onto a specific platform to hear a particular album.
That’s something that we’re used to for, say, television, but music is a bit more personal, and leveraging it into a subscription could breed resentment. Fans are pushing back in at least one predictable way—Lemonade is already being pirated widely. Various versions of the album, for instance, hold the top 7 spots on the music torrent site What.CD, which primarily serves areas where a Tidal subscription is just a click away.