Kanye West’s exclusive album just leads music back to where it was before: rampant piracy

Image: Reuters/Matt Detrich/USA TODAY Sports
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Kanye West finally dropped his hotly anticipated new album, but it’s only available on Tidal—Jay Z’s somewhat-troubled music streaming site, which requires a monthly subscription service—and West has angered fans by refusing to offer the songs anywhere else.

The exclusive release bolstered Tidal’s standing in the short term: The app rose to #1 in the US App Store shortly after West’s album debuted, which is quite a big leap for the small streaming service.

That doesn’t at all mean people interested in checking out West’s album will stay with the service past its free trial period, though. What is certain is that the exclusivity of West’s The Life of Pablo on Tidal has caused an enormous surge in piracy.

According to TorrentFreak, The Life of Pablo was illegally downloaded on BitTorrent and other piracy sites by some 500,000 people within a single day of its release, and roughly 10,000 people were sharing a copy of the most popular torrent version at the same time by Feb. 16. Those sky-high numbers are “something we haven’t seen with a music release before,” TorrentFreak noted.

This takes us back to the way the world was before the advent of paid downloads, iTunes, and music streaming—when Napster and its ilk ruled.

As Quartz has pointed out in the past, exclusive music releases just don’t work. To most people, there just isn’t any sense in paying for something when it can be obtained for free—and for minimal effort. (West was originally going to offer album downloads for $20 on his personal website but changed his mind, potentially losing out on more than $10 million in revenue.)

Not to mention, frustrated new Tidal subscribers have reported a host of problems such as botched downloads and double-billing. Yes, the service might one day prove a real rival to its much bigger competitors Apple Music, Pandora, and Spotify, but it’s unlikely to be exclusive music releases that get it there.