Coldplay's Digital Strategy Pays Off: Group Breaks iTunes Record With 500,000 Downloads in a Week
Coldplay's Digital Strategy Pays Off: Group Breaks iTunes Record With 500,000 Downloads in a Week

As debate about the financial impact of streaming royalties heated up this week, albums released this week by Coldplay and Tom Waits are noticeably absent from leading subscription services.

While it is not uncommon to see catalogs of legacy artists missing from services such as Spotify, Coldplay's new album "Mylo Xyloto" is perhaps the highest-profile absence from a contemporary artist to date. Adele's "21" and others may be missing from Spotify, but "Mylo Xyloto" is missing from all subscription services.

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Coldplay's decision to bypass subscription services appears to be part of a purpose-driven approach to digital marketing. Rather than using free audio and video streams in the hope they will lead to album sales, the band is more forcefully encouraging listeners to purchase downloads or CDs. And by keeping the album away from on-demand services, Coldplay is ensuring fans will buy (or find other ways to obtain the music) rather than listen for free.

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Take the official video for the lead-off single "Paradise." Uploaded to the band's YouTube channel on September 10, the video has 12.3 million streams through Thursday even though it's quite minimal by major label standards. The video features the full audio track with a background that's effectively an album advertisement. "Taken from the album Mylo Xyloto, released 24 October 2011," it reads above URLs for the band's website and Facebook page. And since October 19, two videos -- with similar design theme and text --have given fans an abbreviated preview of the album. Through Thursday, Part 1 has 256,000 streams and Part 2 has 133,000 streams.

The result is online videos with the distinct aim of turning consumer interest into purchases. The album sampler at YouTube, the official video for "Paradise" and the iTunes preview draw a certain number of people. That content leads to a certain percentage of people visiting e-commerce sites such as iTunes or the band's Facebook page. A percentage of that group either buys the album or a track, or opts to follow the band on Facebook. As a consumer travels through the funnel, discovery leads to interest and then a purchase.

Subscription services such as Spotify do not figure into Coldplay's release strategy. "We always work with our artists and management on a case by case basis to deliver the best outcome for each release," EMI said in a statement to CNET, which reported about Coldplay's absence from subscription services on Wednesday.

If you're thinking Coldplay are merely luddites clinging to a dying business model, remember the promotion for the band's previous album included a free download of the first single, "Violet Hill," and a free concert at Madison Square Garden in New York. It worked well - the album racked up U.S. sales of 721,000 units in its first week and has sold 2.8 million to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

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But strategies change and experimentation continues. This time around, Coldplay's embrace of the free live experience has a particularly modern twist: the live webcast of the band's Wednesday evening concert in Madrid was sponsored by American Express and streamed on YouTube.

Tom Waits' new album, "Bad As Me," is also a no-show at streaming services. Waits' music also can be found on YouTube, and the title track and "Back in the Crowd" were posted by Anti Records the month before the album's October 24 release. The album can be streamed -- in full -- at NPR's web site, too, and at press time was still available on the site (even though NPR usually takes down its "First Listen" streams on the day of the album's release). Now, obviously Waits' audience is significantly less mainstream than Coldplay's and his resistance to streaming services may stem from his notorious resistance to any corporatization of his music. The effects of his album's absence will be difficult to quantify, but it's worth pointing out that the $12.99, deluxe version of the album was #6 on iTunes's top albums list Thursday morning (the $10.99 regular version was down at #106).

More missing new releases are scattered around subscription services. To cite several examples of albums on well-known labels, the new Sub Pop ressiue of Dntel's 2001 album "Life is Full of Possibilities" can be found only on Mog and Rhapsody. "A Thousand Years," the new single by Atlantic artist Christina Perri are nowhere to be found on Spotify, Mog, Rhapsody or Rdio.