Why Adele's '25' won't be available on streaming services

Adele's new album is here, but not on streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music. Here's a look at what this move says about the music business.

John Shearer/Invision/AP
Adele's album '25' is now available.

Adele’s highly anticipated new album “25” has arrived, but you may not find it in the usual places.

According to streaming companies Apple Music, Deezer, and Spotify, Adele’s new album will not be available to their customers.

Before now, it had been announced that an enhanced version of Adele’s new work with extra tracks would be available through retailer Target, but no plans for streaming had been announced. Now it’s official that Adele’s “25” will not be found on these services. 

It’s the latest skirmish in the continuing struggle between artists and streaming services. Artists such as Taylor Swift, Beck, Patrick Carney of the Black Keys, and Thom Yorke of Radiohead have spoken out against Spotify, in particular, because of what they say is small compensation for the artists in exchange for Spotify serving their music.

Spotify has a free service in which users can listen to music without paying but are required to listen to ads, and a premium service in which users pay to for a commercial-free experience. Before Ms. Swift released her album “1989” in 2014, she and those who work with her asked that users be required to live outside America to hear her album for free on the streaming service. Spotify refused, and Swift’s music is no longer on the service, though she is on competitor Apple Music.

According to Spotify, the service gives almost 70 percent of its revenue back to labels and other music distributors. These “rights holders” are paid between $0.006 and $0.0084 every time a song is streamed, the service says, an average that is reached by including both the free and premium services. 

However, the Spotify site reads, “We personally view ‘per stream’ metrics as a highly flawed indication of our value to artists for several reasons. For one, our growing user population might listen to more music in a given month than the month before (resulting in a lower effective ‘per stream’), while generating far more aggregate royalties for artists … Theoretically, another service could generate higher effective ‘per stream’ payouts simply by having users who listen to far less music. We believe, however, that our service and the lives of artists will both be best if the World’s music fans enjoy more music than ever before in a legal, paid manner.” 

As for another streaming option and its relationship with artists, Swift wrote a letter to Apple Music criticizing the service’s decision not to pay artists for songs streamed during users' free trials of the service. “This is not about me,” she wrote. “Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows. This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success. This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt. This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create, just like the innovators and creators at Apple are pioneering in their field … but will not get paid for a quarter of a year’s worth of plays on his or her songs.” 

Soon after, Apple Music reversed its decision.

This ongoing controversy may be part of the reason Adele and her team decided to avoid streaming, but it could also have much to do with sales. While Apple Music does not have a free option except for the aforementioned three-month trial, Adele's "25" interestingly won't be there, either. She and her team may be looking to increase album and song sales by skipping streaming services.

Music industry watchers are predicting that "25" could even break the sales record for the most album sales in a week, a title that is still held by NSYNC's "No Strings Attached." That record was made in 2000 at a time when Napster was still growing in popularity. Could Adele break the record if "25" was on streaming? That's debatable.

Judging from the decision by Adele and her team, it looks like the hugely successful singer decided there was more to be lost than gained by releasing “25” to a streaming service. 

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