How streaming has created the real retail long tail

How streaming has created the real retail long tail

Merry Christmas! No, don’t worry, I do know what day it is. And while I’m sure we all miss those now far-off days spent facedown in a vat of eggnog and Quality Street, while a festive Olly Murs TV appearance played softly in the background, the music business’ 2016 is already up and running at a furious pace.

But perusing the Q4 sales charts in the Music Week office, we discovered something. The combination of the festive season and streaming’s inexorable rise has finally provided long-awaited proof that the so-called ‘long tail’ in music retail now, definitively, exists.

Because the quarter’s Top 200 best-selling singles included no fewer than 18 Christmas songs. Of those, only one – Matt Terry’s festive X Factor winner’s single, When Christmas Comes Around – was released in 2016.

The others were an eclectic mix of classics, from Mariah Carey (No.33) to Bing Crosby (No.189), all proving more popular than a host of hip new names. That would never have happened in the days of physical singles.

So, as the biz contemplates the future of the album (see P1 for more on that), this should provide plenty of cheer. Because, look deeper in the chart and you’ll see it’s not just festive tunes: older hits from Eminem to Red Hot Chili Peppers also make the Top 200 Q4 singles.

While this might not seem like good news for new artists, the pay-off for albums becoming less central to the listening experience (for some at least) may be that tracks that truly connect will now not just live forever in the streaming universe, but bring in significant revenues forever too.

After all, a cracking tune is for life, not just for Christmas. Pass the eggnog…

Mark Sutherland, Editor

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