Talking tech since 2003

Today’s the day that the music industry suddenly and irreversibly changed. One of the most popular artists in the world today, Beyoncé, has simultaneously announced and released her brand new 14 song album (also called Beyoncé) exclusively on Apple’s iTunes service, along with 17 exclusive videos. While a press release announcing the album notes that “manufacturing of physical albums begins today and the double disc CD/DVD will be available at retail in time for the holidays,” this is a massive coup for Apple today, and is almost certainly going to usher in a new way that music is released from now on.

Last week I wrote a bit about Beats Music, the forthcoming music streaming service from the headphone-maker. There, I mentioned that a great way to stand out from the back was to ape Netflix’s recent successes with providing exclusive content as a way to draw in subscribers. If Beats wanted to stand a chance in the face of already-established competition like iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora, it would need something unique to bring listeners to the service. Now iTunes has gone and done it already, leaving other music services in the dust.

Interestingly, earlier this week Spotify announced an expansion of free music streaming on tablets and mobile devices, though lost amid those announcements was the slow rollout of exclusive streaming rights to Led Zeppelin’s albums—a band that has notoriously been absent from all digital music services. While having the exclusive access to one of the biggest bands ever is great, it’s not like you can’t get Led Zeppelin’s albums anywhere else in other forms. The tracks themselves are easily available digitally anyway, so Spotify’s benefits there are pretty fleeting.

But the release of Beyoncé means that other digital music outlets can’t afford to skip out on offering exclusive content anymore. Netflix’s original programming has been a huge hit—both commercially and critically—prompting Hulu and Amazon Prime Video to go the same route. Now that iTunes has managed to secure exclusive rights to one of the few artists that can draw in a globally diverse audience, the competition has to find ways to similarly offer exclusive content, or lose listeners.

There’s no question that iTunes will get a whole lot of money today. But what is in question is this: which service is next? What’s the next great exclusive offering going to be, and who’ll be able to boast it?

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