Kanye Made Tidal Number One, But Does It Even Matter?

Photo: Dana Edelson/NBC.
Exclusivity is one way to drum up hype about a new product, whether it's a limited-edition makeup launch or a new app. And Kanye West, who married into the business- and media-savvy Kardashian clan, used that concept to his advantage this weekend to some success.

On Saturday, Kanye released his seventh album, The Life of Pablo. But there was a catch: The only place you could download it was on an app he's personally invested in, Tidal. Now, Tidal, a music streaming app that costs $20 a month, is the number one app in the Apple App Store.

In terms of rankings, download numbers, and presumably, album plays, Kanye seemingly turned Tidal from a waning music streamer into an overnight success.

Unlike apps such as Spotify or Apple Music, Tidal is actually owned by Jay Z and other musicians like Kanye, Rihanna, and Madonna. They support it because artists are reportedly given a greater percentage of royalties on the platform than on any other music service. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the artists that benefit most from Tidal aren't up-and-coming indie singer-songwriters who could use some extra cash for rent, but A-listers that already own million-dollar mansions. Sorry if I don't want to spend an extra $10 a month on music so that Madonna and friends can keep their Hollywood lawns unnaturally green.

But Kanye's album release did what he'd hoped. In releasing it only on Tidal, Kanye earned himself money through album sales, song streams, and also by increasing the value of the app it plays on.

Unfortunately, there's a problem with this sort of exclusive launch when it comes to downloadable media. When fans can't get what they want easily (or cheaply), they'll find some other way to download it. In Kanye's case, his album has now been pirated over 500,000 times. It's difficult to say if, had it been available on Spotify and iTunes, that number would be drastically minimized or not. Regardless, releasing it exclusively on Tidal was more an ego play than a shrewd business move.

There's a second issue as well. Tidal may be number one today, but it's just one day. As Gizmodo points out, it's going to take a lot more than a few one-off exclusives to make Tidal "a thing." According to data from Google Trends, Spotify is massively more popular than Tidal. Its popularity peaks only for a day or so when a big new album drops on the app, such as Rihanna's Anti or Kanye's The Life of Pablo. To catch up to competitors, Tidal's going to need a string of regular exclusives for listeners to keep coming back and ponying up that $20 a month or they're just going to turn to cheaper alternatives.

Maybe Tidal is revving up its exclusive album releases and we'll soon find ourselves ditching Spotify in favor of Tidal's new content. But considering A.) Most of us are cheap and B.) We're downloading more old music than new these days, it's likely just a fad.

If you downloaded the app just to listen to TLOP, do you plan to keep using it? You can sound off in the comments.
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