Tidal's Kanye West exclusive is good for Tidal and for music pirates

Tidal is at the top of the app charts, but West's album is being torrented at a furious pace.

Credit: Tidal

Jay-Z’s streaming music service Tidal is on a winning streak this month thanks to exclusive releases from Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Kanye West. The iOS app shot to the top of the free app charts thanks to those high-profile artists, where it currently hovers in the No. 2 spot. But while Tidal is riding high, the company’s approach may have an unintended consequenece: the return of music piracy.

Kanye West released his long-awaited new album, The Life of Pablo, over the weekend after tons of hype and some bizarre tweetstorms. But West chose to release his album only on Tidal, and only to stream. Rihanna also went with Tidal to start for her latest album Anti, but she made the album available to download from the service and also sold it on iTunes. Now it’s available everywhere. But Kanye is all in with Tidal, telling the world that he won’t even sell The Life of Pablo, and Tidal subscribers can’t download the song files, like they could with Rihanna’s album and the new Beyoncé song.

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It’s a strange business decision, given that Tidal equity is sliced among several artists, and the company is handing out free three-month trials like they’re going out of style. For an artist who claims he’s $53 million in personal debt, choosing not to sell a new record is, to be frank, bananas.

Streaming exclusives and the rise of piracy

Tidal is definitely benefitting from the exclusives. Before the Rihanna release in January, the iOS app was languishing at No. 147, so clearly its approach is working—at least on the surface. But Torrent Freak says the album has been torrented at least 500,000 times, which is much higher than the number of illegal downloads of the new Adele album. Adele chose to forego streaming services altogether and only sell her latest record, 25. That decision helped her break first week sales records and skyrocket to the top of the Billboard charts. Who knows how many albums West could have sold if he had gone the more traditional route? But, hey, it’s Kanye. Traditional isn’t exactly his thing.

Perhaps Tidal can parlay its exclusives to streaming domination, but after giving the service another try to stream The Life of Pablo, it’s clear the service still needs work to make its interface easier to navigate and more features to set it apart from Spotify and Apple Music.

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