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Windowing New Music May Not Goose Sales, Study Shows

A case study by on one song in two different territories by two Spotify executives shows why windowing releases might not be a good idea.

A case study by on one song in two different territories by two Spotify executives shows why windowing releases might not be a good idea.

The Spotify duo, director of economic development Will Page and analyst Kenny Ning, chose to look at how Meghan Trainor‘s “All About That Bass” performed in the U.S., where there was no windowing and all services and retailers got that song at the same time, and in the U.K, where there was windowing.

Windowing refers to the practice of purposefully creating periods of exclusive availability in order to achieve a particular goal. The most common practice today is to release an album in CD and download formats for a short period of time — usually a week or two — before the release is made available at subscription services. In this case, the goal is to maximize sales, fearing some potential buyers would stream instead. In other cases, a particular retailer can have a brief window of exclusivity on a new release. In return, the artist gets an inordinate amount of marketing and advertising support from the retailer.

Before you rush to allege Spotify chose to prove its case against windowing by picking a market where the Meghan Trainor song was held back from streaming to maximize download sales, be aware that in the U.K., the song was given to streaming services ahead of download stores.


So while the Spotify executives almost proudly point out that the streaming services alone generated enough listens to get it onto the U.K charts, they downplay that accomplishment saying that with the growth of streaming around the world, “this had to happen sooner or later.”

The timeline went like this: “All About That Bass,” hit the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart two weeks after streams and sales began on June 30. Meanwhile, in the U.K., the song appeared on Aug. 14 on Spotify, but was windowed to stores on September 27, almost six weeks later.

In the U.K., Spotify’s browse section was a key driver in “All About That Bass” streams, and later as the song picked up momentum due to fans adding the song to their playlists. During the first six weeks of availability on streaming services, the song generated 1.17 million eligible streams — 90% on the Spotify service — and jumped to the No. 33 spot on the Official Singles Chart in the U.K — due only to its popularity on streaming services.

Despite the strength at streaming services, the two executives show — at least in the case of “All About That Bass” — that windowing isn’t the best way to satisfy demand.

As the U.K. graph shows, holding back the song from download stores created an artificial shortage that resulted in a large gap between demand and supply.

Windowing New Music May Not Goose
Windowing New Music May Not Goose

Comparing the two countries’ graphs helps explain how this played out. In the U.S., the four metrics — Shazam tags, Spotify steams, download sales and radio airplay — create an almost perfect bell curve when plotted on a chart. All four indicators rose and fell together with “radio’s peak lagging noticeably behind the curve,” the authors wrote. The paper doesn’t break out all details because some are considered proprietary, but nevertheless the steady growth of the four metrics and, likewise, their steady decline are quite apparent. U.S. consumers purchased 4 million downloads and streamed “All About That Bass” 50 million times from July 6 to Nov. 16.

In contrast, in the U.K. where the streaming services were provided the song behind download stores, the trendlines show sudden rises and falls of consumer demand and airplay. Most of the activity kicks in between August 17th and 24th followed by a quick rise in Shazam tags beginning August 31st. This is followed by quickly quick rises in sales, radio, and streaming through October 5th. After that date, sales and Shazam tags begin a rapid descent even though Spotify users are still relatively interested in the song. Radio lagged behind and peaked around November 11th.

What the difference in the two charts shows, according to the duo, is that the non-windowing strategy in the U.S. produced the most consumer satisfaction in meeting demand, while the windowing strategy in the UK probably resulted in dollars being left on the table due to a shorter, more frenzied activity period.

Or as they put it, “comparing the Shazam data to sales reveals a discrepancy between supply and demand.” During the six-week where the track was withheld from download stores, there was lots of demand as the considerable Shazam tag grown shows prior to the songs release shows. They conclude: “When Shazams outstrip sales, there’s a risk of leaving engagement — and money — on the table.”