Yesterday I was lamenting about having too much choice in cultural product, and how that has made me take a skeptical attitude toward anything new—I’m too busy keeping up with what I already allegedly like to start liking more and more. (That is, I have a finite amount of desire to invest.) This Economist article from a few months ago brings up a related issue: it looks at how culture industries have become even more dependent on huge-selling hits, which have paradoxically become more prominent as consumer choice has proliferated.
Offer music fans a virtually infinite choice of songs free of charge, and they will still gravitate to hits. That has been the experience of We7, a music-streaming service based in London which has 2.5m users. Only 22% of We7’s 4m songs are streamed in any given week, says Steve Purdham, who founded the company. The top 100 artists account for more than half of all streams. Users of Spotify, another ad-supported music service, are similarly unadventurous. Will Page of PRS for Music, which collects royalties for British songwriters, calculates that the most popular 5% of tracks on Spotify account for 80% of all streams. He is counting only the 3m tracks that were streamed at least once between February and July. Another 1.5m were not touched at all.