YouTube Is About to Do to Record Labels What Amazon Does to Publishers

The great indie purge is coming.

Jun 17 2014, 5:46pm
Image: Jarad eberhardt/Flickr

Just as Amazon has proven that there are consequences for publishers and movies that displease them, Google's YouTube is about to throw its considerable weight at the emaciated and ailing music industry.

YouTube is preparing to remove music videos from independent record labels that refused to join the video site's new music service.

While 90 percent of the music industry got on board with the service, videos from that pesky last 10 percent—which includes heavyweight indies like Domino Recordings and XL Recordings—will start being blocked in “a matter of days," YouTube's head of content and business operations, Robert Kyncl, told the Financial Times.

From the minute they saw the terms and conditions of YouTube's new music service, some artists and their labels knew they didn't like it, particularly the part where YouTube told the labels to either sign up for the new subscription service or have their videos kicked off of the site.

In response, Billy Bragg, the Worldwide Independent Network (WIN), the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), and European indie association IMPALA, vowed to ask the European Commission (Domino and XL are European labels) to step in and fight YouTube.

WIN also claims that Google has signed more lucrative licensing deals with major labels—Universal, Warner, and Sony—while demanding that independent labels sign up to inferior terms, lest their videos be banished from YouTube's free service, which the labels have come to depend on.

But Google and YouTube, ever faster than regulation, are ready to begin culling videos from labels that haven't signed up. So if you want to watch, say, an Animal Collective music video, you better do it quick.

Google and YouTube haven't exactly been shy about throwing their weight around when they've got the clout to do so, and when it comes to music, they're definitely in control, especially with that demographic that labels cherish so dearly: teenagers. According to Nielsen's Music 360 survey, 64 percent of teenagers get music through YouTube, more than any other source.

Alison Wenham, CEO of WIN, told Motherboard's Victoria Turk that YouTube has established itself as a leader in the music video business. “It’s an essential facility; YouTube has become the de facto, go-to site for video,” Wenham said.

Silicon Valley's heavy hitters are coming to take streaming music seriously. After having left it to the Spotifys and Pandoras of the world for long enough, Apple acquired Beats in large part for its streaming service, while Amazon is preparing a streaming service of its own.

While a decade and a half or so ago, "internet business" once conjured images of friendly nerds out on the West Coast, this summer has effectively buried that stereotype deeper than the dog puppet. Amazon has shown what happens when a publisher doesn't agree to its terms, halting the sales of certain Hachette titles due to a contract dispute, and pulling pre-sale orders for The Lego Movie due to a dispute with Warner Bros.

And Hachette and Warner aren't exactly lightweights themselves. If the present is any indication, indie labels should be well on their way to a Vimeo exile.