Will Page, author of Tarzan Economics, former Chief Economist at Spotify and PRS Music
The Di5ru.pt blog

Will Page is the author of Tarzan Economics: Eight Principles for Pivoting through Disruption, former Chief Economist at Spotify and PRS Music, where he pioneered Rockomics, speaker at events such as SXSW, Google, and TED, and visiting fellow at the London School of Economics.

He will be one of our keynote speakers at the World Media Congress from 7-9 June in Cascais, Portugal. He will attend the full event and, apart from his speaking duties and addressing the FIPP Management Board meeting on 9 June, will be available during networking breaks to meet.

Ahead of the Congress, Ashley Norris caught up with Will. Apart from Will’s economics and music industry background, Ashley asked him for his thoughts on the digital disruption of nascent industries, news and magazine media subscription models, the lessons they can learn from the music industry, their pricing strategies, and whether we have reached peak subscriptions.

Read more below.



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“Honestly, when I learn of subscriber acquisition and churn rates in newspapers and magazines, I feel like I will faint. Some titles celebrate adding 100,000 new global subscribers in a calendar year as a record-breaking success; well Spotify adds that in a single day!,” Will Page tells us.

The music industry was the first to undergo a digital transformation process, which ultimately led to a complete re-calibration of the business models of both artists and labels. Will has chronicled the industry’s issues and noted the solutions it came up with.

After working as an economist and a writer for a decade, Page joined Spotify in 2012 as its Chief Economist. He witnessed the stratospheric growth of the platform and the way it has managed to maintain its position as a streaming market leader in spite of some fierce competition.

Page, who has recently written a book, ‘Tarzan Economics’, believes that the wider media industry, which is also undergoing a similar digital transition, has much to learn from the music sector. He will explore this topic in-depth at Congress 2022 in a session titled, “Lessons for your business from Spotify and other subscription plays”. Will explains why everyone needs to understand economics, why the media constantly shoots itself in the foot in its subscription pricing, and why churn should be top of the agenda for media executives.

Here are some of the questions and answers from Ashley’s conversation with WIll (read the full interview on fipp.com).

Mainstream news organisations like the FT, NYT etc have in the past been very envious of the way that Spotify was able to build and maintain its subscriber base. What key lessons can they learn from the company?

They constantly shoot themselves in the foot with the most bizarre and counterproductive pricing and promotional offers. Music cracked ‘charm pricing’ – it’s 9.99 a month in euros, dollars and sterling. It’s a price point that resonates so well we haven’t changed it in twenty years. Newspapers say things like ‘Subscribe for £1.71 per day’ – who wants to respond to that? Are you telling me my bank statements will have thirty-odd deductions of £1.71 each and every month? As Jay-Z would say, your industry has 99 problems but price is a big one.

And who else in the media do you think they should be looking to for inspiration in furthering their paid online media offerings?

I’ll toss two at you, there’s two hundred more we can discuss in Portugal. Fintech is interesting. You’ve just seen Le Monde partner with Stripe, that for me is noteworthy. Old media is partnering with new finance and that equals progress. Reddit is also interesting – they broke stocks during the pandemic, so what else can they break when the world gets back to normal. Reddit’s audience in the US is 3x the size of the newspaper subscription population, you can’t ignore that.

There has been talk recently of ‘peak subscription’. Is there a point when consumers can’t/won’t pay for any more media? Are we nearly at that time?

Yes, I document this a lot and have pioneered work on the addressable market. You could argue that countries like Norway and Sweden have reached peak Spotify subscriptions but that hasn’t stopped them from growing – they’ve just got used to growth being tough as opposed to easy. Those markets have learned how to adapt to the new terrain and there’s a lot we can learn from them to futureproof other industries.

And what advice would you give to news and magazine companies about retention?

Honestly, when I learn of subscriber acquisition and churn rates in newspapers and magazines, I feel like I will faint. Some titles celebrate adding 100,000 new global subscribers in a calendar year as a record-breaking success; well Spotify adds that in a single day! On churn in newspapers, you get promoted if you can get it DOWN to 25%. It’s jaw-dropping and often makes me wonder if these organisations should reallocate resources to fix churn instead of maintaining acquisition levels.