Rihanna's new single debuts on Tidal: Is her streaming strategy working?

Rihanna's new song 'Work' is available on the streaming service Tidal but not on other services like Spotify. How is Tidal doing almost a year after its launch?

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
Rihanna poses at the second annual Diamond Ball fundraising event in Santa Monica, California in 2015.

Singer Rihanna has released a new single, titled “Work,” that is a collaboration with rapper Drake and which debuted on the streaming service Tidal.

Rihanna’s last album was the 2012 work “Unapologetic” and since then, she has released various singles, including “FourFiveSeconds,” which was a collaboration with rapper Kanye West and Paul McCartney. 

Billboard cites anonymous sources in reporting that her album “Anti” will be released sometime before Friday, Jan. 29, though an official release date has not been set. 

The singer will embark on a tour in North America and Europe promoting “Anti” on Feb. 26.

“Work” was released on the streaming service Tidal, of which Rihanna is a co-owner. It is apparently on Apple Music as well, though it does not appear on Spotify or YouTube.

How is Tidal doing now? Is it standing out from its competitors? 

When it was created, Tidal made headlines for the fact that it was owned by musicians. Singers including Taylor Swift and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke have spoken out about streaming service Spotify, claiming it pays artists too little. Swift also wrote a letter to Apple because of the service’s lack of payment to artists whose songs were streamed by Apple Music users in their free trial. Apple Music changed its policy soon after. 

Tidal users pay about $10 a month for normal-quality streaming and about $20 a month for high-quality streaming.

When Tidal was created, musicians including Jay-Z, Beyonce, Kanye West, Rihanna, Jack White of the White Stripes, and Madonna were called co-owners of the service. 

“The challenge is to get everyone to respect music again, to recognize its value,” Jay-Z said in an interview with the New York Times at the time. 

He said the way things were before the creation of Tidal was “criminal.” 

“Everyone knows that the pay system is unfair to artists,” he said. “Everywhere else, everyone gets compensated for their work. Music is everywhere – you consume it every day, everywhere you go. The content creator should be compensated. It’s only fair.”

How has Tidal done since its launch almost a year ago? 

In September, the service hit one million subscribers, a number that is obviously far behind Spotify’s more than 20 million at the time and the more than six million paid subscribers on Apple Music at the time. However, Spotify, for one, had been around much longer at that point (though Apple Music is in fact newer). 

But many songs that debuted on Tidal got much lower numbers on that service than they did once they appeared on places like Spotify. According to Billboard, when Rihanna released the song “American Oxygen” last spring, it got 142,000 streams on Tidal, but when the first-week exclusivity was over on Tidal and the song went to, for example, Spotify and YouTube, the song got more than a million streams from the two together.

If, for example, Rihanna decides to make “Anti” available on Tidal exclusively for a week, “Spotify and YouTube dominate the streaming landscape, and to cut the two pillars out for a week means that Rihanna's ‘ANTI’ numbers are bound to suffer during the period of exclusivity,” Billboard writer Dan Rys and Glenn Peoples wrote.

Max Willens of the International Business Times writes of Rihanna's strategy of exclusivity on Tidal, “Being able to use one of the most hotly anticipated albums of the year as a way to get people to sign up could be a huge advantage. But that also represents a huge risk. Keeping ‘Work’ and possibly ‘Anti’ off rival streaming services will severely limit the number of people who can listen to it – a dicey proposition for an artist who reportedly expects her album to debut at the top of the Billboard charts.”

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