Why You Probably Shouldn’t Subscribe to Tidal
You may be considering whether you should subscribe to Tidal, since the streaming service is in the headlines again as the only place you can currently stream Beyoncé’s new album, Lemonade. But even if you’re excited to hear the new album, you still probably shouldn’t subscribe to Tidal, because as The Cheat Sheet reported last year, there’s little room for Tidal to compete with rival services like Apple Music and Spotify.
Matthew Hussey reports for The Next Web that the app, which struggled for the better part of a year to make it into the top 500 apps, is popular again and reached the top 10 in Apple’s iOS App Store. Beyoncé, who is married to Tidal owner Jay Z, hasn’t released the album for streaming anywhere else. But Hussey writes that even if you’re a diehard Beyoncé fan, you should avoid spending $9.99 for access to Tidal.
That’s because, for starters, there’s no guarantee that the album you sign up to listen to will even remain a Tidal exclusive. It’s only available to stream on Tidal, but is already available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon. Hussey reports that recently, angry fans launched a lawsuit over Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo album, which was supposed to be available on Tidal but soon appeared on other streaming services. (But that was only after the album had been pirated more than 500,000 times.)
The Next Web notes that Tidal was built to bring fans closer to artists and to give musicians a bigger share of the profits. But Hussey, like many other critics of the streaming service, note that Tidal has been managed so terribly that it’s unclear whether it can stay afloat for much longer. The company appears to be inept at dealing with record companies when things go wrong, and when a Tidal executive blamed the leak of Rihanna’s new album on the Universal Music Group, Universal retorted that “We delivered the content exactly to their specs. It’s something we do every day on a global basis. They are trying to pass blame for their own incompetence.”
Additionally, the Next Web reports that Tidal has failed to build on the goodwill that should have come with one of hip-hop’s most successful artists buying into the streaming business. Jay Z tried to sue Tidal’s former owners for lying about the service’s subscriber numbers, and the company has since tried unsuccessfully to get into the business of making TV shows. From the beginning, most of the tech industry thought Tidal was destined to fail, in no small part because Tidal is charging either $10 a month for subscription-based music or twice that for higher quality audio that most people can’t distinguish, without an ad-supported free tier for users to try out.
In August 2015, 71% of music executives surveyed by Billboard said that they expected Tidal to fold within a year. More recently, Billboard reported that it’s unclear whether exclusive content can help Tidal compete against Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Prime Music, Google Play Music, and the range of other streaming services that users can choose among.
While it might seem like a good idea for Tidal to feature exclusive releases that generate more attention, more mainstream news coverage, and more subscribers than the streaming service would be able to achieve otherwise, Billboard notes that Tidal doesn’t have many other options. The streaming services that Tidal is competing with have better products, more partnerships, and more resources. Additionally, Tidal has much lower brand recognition than rivals like Pandora, Apple Music, iHeart Radio, Spotify, or Amazon Music.
Further compounding Tidal’s problems is the fact that few users cite exclusive content as the primary factor in their choice of streaming service. A recent survey by MusicWatch (PDF) found that exclusive content was the primary motivating factor in a paid music subscription for only 9% of respondents and only the seventh-most important feature of a streaming service, behind its interface, the ability to buy downloads and watch music videos, its options for better-than-CD sound, its library management features, and the ability to connect the service to home sound system equipment. That means that Tidal’s biggest drawing card really doesn’t matter that much to broad groups of consumers.
Another factor that bodes poorly for Tidal’s ability to stick around long-term is the fact that its biggest rivals, Apple, Google, and Amazon, can all afford to run their streaming services at a loss, for years, if necessary. The same could be said of Spotify, which operates at a loss, and Pandora, which lost $169 million last year. That means that Tidal will need to get its act together, and prepare to spend lots of money, in order to compete. Rumors have been circulating that Jay Z is looking for an out, and if you want to avoid investing in an app that’s liable to disappear, now isn’t the time to start subscribing to Tidal.