Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

The attention economy, take two

What the Spotify skipping survey tells us about wins and losses in the attention economy

Wed, May 21, 2014, 09:25


The attention economy came to mind last week when the Spotify skipping survey hit the news wires. The survey, conducted by Paul Lamere from music analysis company (and recent Spotify acquisition) The Echo Nest, showed that our attention spans when it comes to listening to music are getting shorter and shorter.

Lamere dived into the metrics to show that a quarter of all songs on Spotify are skipped within the first five seconds, with over 30 per cent of all songs skipped within 30 seconds. While these figures will come as no surprise to anyone who has sat through a record label A&R meeting, it’s probably eye-opening for music-makers to realise that the average listener is also skip-happy. Proof yet again that the average listener – whoever he or she is – is more fickle and faddish than anyone might think.

Two years ago, we talked about the attention economy at Banter. Our panelists Michael Foley, Finian Murphy and Roisin Ingle used insights on Proust, brothels, oranges, Ann Summers, FOMO, Buddhism, Sky News, clickactivism and neuroscience to explain why attention is the most valuable currency we possess right now.

You’re spending in the attention economy with every tweet you retweet, every link you click, every Facebook event you like and every viral video you forward. You’re even spending when you go to an event or a gig and spend half the night tweeting about it. But we only have a finite amount of time and attention and an infinite amount of stuff, from products and services to campaigns and causes, vying for that attention so it’s fascinating to see how corporations and brands work to manipulate our attention spans.

But as Lamere’s survey shows, simply grabbing our attention and getting us to use a service is not the end of things for all users. Spotify is up against a raft of other streaming platforms from Rdio to Deezer to Beats Music so it’s probably happy because people have chosen it over the others. Indeed, as Lamere notes, “skipping has become an important part of how we listen to music…‘unlimited skipping’ is a feature used to entice people to upgrade to a premium paid account”.

Lamere is planning to dive further into the data to come up with the genres, songs and artists with the most and least skips, which will be fascinating to see. It’s a superb use of the data skyscrapers which Spotify are producing on a daily basis and will be used as a road-map by many to plot future campaigns.

However for the acts on Spotify looking at their songs being skipped after five to 30 seconds or realising that listeners skip every other song on average, Spotify’s win in the attention economy does not turn out to be so useful, bar the fact that they’re selling more premium accounts and making more money to pass on in royalties. It’s a realisation that the engagement needed to turn casual fans into committed fans requires more than just having your music on the myriad of platforms out there and ticking all the boxes in your outbound marketing plan.

The attention economy means you’re up against the other seven million bands in the world and simply doing what you’re supposed to do is not enough. You need the “other”, that kink or wrinkle which pushes everyone’s button. All great hit songs have a splash of the “other” to them. That’s the kind of thing which grabs everyone’s attention and means they hunt you down and seek you out. It’s this difference, this quirk, which people need to develop if they want to succeed in the attention economy and stop people (ab)using that skip button.