Coldplay album ignites Apple and Spotify digital music battle


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The Independent Culture

Apple and Spotify stepped up a battle for the future of digital music as the iTunes operator claimed exclusivity over the new Coldplay album even as the streaming service celebrated its 10 millionth paying subscriber.

Ghost Stories, the new Coldplay album, which details Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling” from Gwyneth Paltrow, has become the fastest-selling UK album of the year, selling 106,000 copies in its first two days of release.

Sales were boosted by Coldplay’s decision to withhold Ghost Stories from Spotify and other streaming services, where music can be played for free, encouraging the band’s army of fans to pay for full-price downloads and CDs.

Coldplay entered into an exclusive arrangement with rival Apple, debuting the album at a special iTunes concert and allowing the download service to stream the album for a week ahead of its release.

Download sales fell 2.1 per cent last year as music fans flocked to streaming services, sending subscription revenues past $1 billion.

But artists have complained that Spotify pays meagre royalties and iTunes is encouraging the biggest names to withhold new releases from streaming services, to maximise sales of £8.99 albums.

Beyonce sold a record one million downloads inside a week when she gave iTunes an exclusive release of her new album last year.

Spotify placed a message to subscribers seeking the new albums from Coldplay and The Black Keys, another hold-out, which read: “The artist or their representatives have decided not to release this album on Spotify. We are working on it and hope they will change their mind soon.”

Whilst Apple may have won this round in the digital battle, music’s future appears to lie with streaming, as download album sales continue to slide.

Ghost Stories’ opening day sales were 15 per cent down on its predecessor, Mylo Xyloto, released in 2011.

The collapse in music sales means no Coldplay album is likely to match the 464,471 copies which their X&Y album shifted during its first week in 2005.

Spotify, which recently signed up added Oasis and Led Zeppelin to its catalogue, announced that it now has 10 million paying subscribers and more than 40 million active users in 56 markets worldwide.

Daniel Ek, Spotify CEO and founder, said. “We’re widening our lead in the digital music space and will continue to focus on getting everyone in the world to listen to more music.”

Apple is expected to launch its own streaming service following the $3.2 billion agreement to buy Beats Electronics, the headphones maker co-founded by Dr Dre, which had begun signing up customers to its own streaming service.

Hit record producer Jimmy Iovine, Beats co-founder, is expected to join Apple under the deal, where sources suggest he will be tasked with building a new streaming offer, tapping into iTunes database of 800 million customers.

But industry insiders said the Google-owned YouTube, where Ghost Stories can be streamed for free with minimal payments to copyright holders, presented a huge challenge to both Apple and Spotify.

Coldplay have also made Ghost Stories available on Amazon’s download store and Google Play, where it is advertised for a cut-price £4.99. The band have sought to drum up CD sales by giving the US discount store chain Target an exclusive version of Ghost Stories with extra tracks.

Individual singles have been made available on Spotify and the entire album could appear on the service within the next four months. Spotify argues that allowing consumers to “test” tracks via streaming encourages fans to buy downloads.

Spotify refuseniks

Thom Yorke: Pulled his solo catalogue and Atoms For Peace group from the service in protest at meagre royalties for new artists and links to major labels.

The Beatles: After tortuous negotiations to bring the Fab Four to iTunes, an agreement to approve streaming is proving a long crawl.

AC/DC: Hard-rocking digital sceptics finally lured on to iTunes, will they follow Led Zep to Spotify?

Garth Brooks: America’s biggest-selling country star of the past 25 years believes albums should exist as a complete work and shuns iTunes too.