To stream or not to stream, that's the big Mercury Prize 2018 question

Jorja Smith

This year’s Hyundai Mercury Prize shortlist is a curious one artistically, full of good, proper albums by well-established artists, but - unlike last year's debut-heavy list - low on exciting new talent.

But, for the business, it represents the perfect opportunity to test its new streaming model and discover whether it can finally apply to full albums as well as tracks.

Spotify are on board as digital partners this year rather than Apple, which suggests in 2018 the main drive will be firmly for streams rather than sales. (Although Music Week's research shows that there are few blockbuster sellers on this year's list so far).

Yet, at a time when Streaming Equivalent Albums regularly represent over 50% of the albums market week-by-week, only two of the albums on the list have garnered over 50% of their units from streaming. And one of those is Novelist’s Novelist Guy, which isn’t even available physically yet and has sold under 1,000 copies (the other is Jorja Smith, whose excellent Lost & Found debut has 58.14% of its units on the format).

It's perhaps no surprise that they're the two newest artists on this year's list. The likes of Florence + The Machine’s High As Hope and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ Who Built The Moon have sold well, but with 14.14% and 9.36% of ‘sales’ from streaming so far, they’ve not exactly broken through on the format.

Meanwhile, the likes of Drake (80.78% of Scorpion’s sales so far come from streaming, albeit with a delayed physical release) and Post Malone (86.59% of Beerbongs & Bentleys sales do likewise, despite having a physical edition in the market from the start) show that there has been a seismic shift in consumption preferences for some genres and demographics.

Whether much of the Mercury list is appealing to those people is debateable, and stars and execs at the Mercury launch were quick to rally round the format, which will also be supported by the new National Album Day. But the pace of change is accelerating and the Prize offers an opportunity for older, more alternative artists and fans to also get on board with the revolution and push proper, longform records as something to stream as well as purchase. Streaming offers a low-cost incentive to sample the shortlisted albums, but it will be a sustained boost in consumption that the biz will be looking for.

Otherwise, see you next year for the Mercury Playlist Prize…

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