Streaming shakes up Japan’s music industry

As on-demand streaming music and films grows in popularity, streaming service operators in Japan’s music industry have turned fixed-rate subscriptions into a stable source of revenue from previously released songs.

When Avex Group, a major Japanese music company launched the paid streaming service about a year ago, CEO Masato Matsuura predicted that devoted fans would continue to buy CDs. While discs are no longer an essential medium for listening to music, they have become a sort of lifestyle item, he said.

This could be a breakthrough for Japan’s music industry, where promotions of artists have mostly focused on efforts to increase CD sales. Promoters have followed a series of common steps that used to promise success: Songs from a new album would be exposed first on television through music shows and commercials. As the CD was released and fans became familiar with the songs, the artist would finally hold concerts featuring them.


Hamasaki Ayumi, a Japanese pop diva and former actress. Also known as Ayu to her fans.

The latest album by Ayumi Hamasaki, a Japanese diva and one of Avex Group’s leading artists, was made available exclusively on the company’s paid streaming service, AWA, in May. Put online well before the CD’s official release late last month, it has been streamed more than 2.5 million times so far. Access to Hamasaki’s new songs is included in AWA’s fixed-rate subscription, with no extra charges. Customers who sign up for a new membership are even able to stream the songs completely for free during an initial trial period.

According to the Recording Industry Association of Japan, last year’s production value of CDs, which is the number of discs produced multiplied by the price tag for each, remained almost unchanged from the previous year. Online streaming sales rose 8%, mainly helped by the growing popularity of fixed-rate subscriptions.

Japan is a difficult market as many consumers are still hooked on physical media. However, the #1 music streaming service Spotify is finally landing to Japan. The service joins Apple Music, Google, LINE and AWA. Sony was offering its music streaming service in Japan as well, but shut it down world-wide last year in favor of a Spotify deal.

So let’s see, the strategy could herald big changes in Japan’s entertainment industry in the near future.


H/T: Yuji Nitta/Nikkei

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