So, seven months and nearly three million sales after it was first released, Adele’s 25 finally limped onto streaming services last week.
The streaming companies were quick to celebrate but you wonder whether it’s really that much of a victory for the format. It notably only happened after 25 finally began to run out of sales steam, and just before her televised Glastonbury set alerted the seven people left in Britain who hadn’t heard the album to its existence.
Far from being a belated admission that streaming is the future, 25’s arrival may merely confirm the new superstar paradigm: that streaming services are here to be used for your own ends, whether that’s something to embrace exclusively for hefty upfront gain or something to spurn, at least initially, in order to prop up traditional sales.
The trouble is, it’s no longer just superstars who think that way. The streaming landscape has changed beyond all recognition since 25’s release: we now live in a world where platform exclusives are for Catfish & The Bottlemen and Let’s Eat Grandma, not just Beyoncé and Taylor Swift.
The rumoured arrival of more big players will only increase artists’ options for exclusives – but narrow consumers’ chances of getting everything they want.
So, while the general streaming numbers remain hugely impressive, rumours of stalling UK subscriber growth at some companies suggest the increasingly fractured nature of each service’s catalogue could yet undermine faith in the format – at least in a “I’ll wait until the VHS/Betamax war is over” type way.
And if that does happen, even Adele signing up might not be a big enough deal to bridge the gap.
Mark Sutherland, Editor