Google’s international app boss speaks out against exclusive albums on music streaming sites

Kanye West
Kanye West has previously released music exclusively through Jay Z-owned platform Tidal. Getty

The rise of music streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify has been a boon to music lovers, but there’s still one major pain point: Exclusive releases.

Companies like Apple and Tidal have been aggressively pursuing deals to land albums and content exclusively (for a period of time) on their platforms to entice new users. But if that artist’s biggest fan happens to be a user of a rival platform — tough luck.

Some in the music industry have spoken out against exclusives — and that includes Google executive Mark Bennett, the international director of Google Play, despite the fact that Google Play Music has itself offered exclusives in the past.

“I think exclusives are a cheeky one for the industry,” the British exec told Business Insider, “because it’s a difficult consumer message for someone that ‘I’ve got this service and it’s not on that service, and when’s it available, and when’s it not?'”

Speaking at Google’s Playtime developer conference in London earlier in September, Bennett acknowledged Google has used exclusive releases to promote its streaming service and online music store before — but would prefer to focus on differentiating the core product.

“Our policy has been: We’ve done some in the past … we did Take That at the end of 2015. So we’ve explored exclusives, but the reality is we’d like there to be a level playing field in terms of access to content, and really we win out with the superior functionality — particularly around playlist generation as well.”

Mark bennett google play international director smartphone homescreen work
Mark Bennett, international director of Google Play. Rob Price/BI

Exclusive deals can be attractive to artists, often netting them more income than they would get from releasing it through broader channels. But it frustrates ordinary users, and industry opinion seems to be souring on exclusive streaming releases.

In August, Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grainge reportedly told his company’s labels they could no longer provide albums to streaming services as exclusives. And Spotify is retaliating against artists who give exclusives to Apple Music. Bloomberg reported in August that the service was not featuring their music in playlists and “burying” them in search results.

However, Apple CEO Tim Cook has signalled his company does not intend to shy away from the tactic going forward. At its iPhone launch event in September, the executive described Apple Music as “the premier destination for new artists and existing artists to launch their exclusive music.”

Apple Music now has 17 million paying subscribers, while Spotify has 40 million (as of July, Tidal had a little over 4 million). Just how big is Google Play Music? Unfortunately, Mark Bennett isn’t saying how many paid subscribers the app’s streaming component has.

There are new features coming in the next few months “that make it an even more inspiring and magical product” — but the number of people who will actually get to experience this “magic” isn’t being disclosed.

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