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Rolling Stone published this recent story (https://www.rollingstone.com/pro/features/spotify-sleep-music-playlists-lady-gaga-1223911/) about the streaming success of the sleep-noise artist/label/scheme Sleep Fruits, who chop up background rain-noise recordings into :30 lengths to maximize streaming playcounts.  

Sleep Fruits is undeniably and intentionally exploiting the systemic weakness of the industry-wide :30-or-more-is-a-play rule, as too are audiobook licensors who split their long content into :30 "chapters". The :30 thing is a bad rule. Most of the straightforward alternatives are also bad, so it wasn't an obviously insane initial system design-choice, but this abuse vector is logical and inevitable.  

The effect of the abuse for the label doing it is simple: exploitative multiplication of their "natural" streams by a large factor. x6 if you compare it to rain noise sliced into pop-song-size lengths.  

The effect on the rest of the streaming economy is more complicated. More money to Sleep Fruits does mean less money to somebody else, at least in the short term.  

Under the current pro-rata royalty-allocation system used by all major subscription streaming services (one big pool, split by stream-share), the effects of Sleep Fruits' abuse are distributed across the whole subscription pool. The burden is shared by all other artists, collectively, but is fractional and negligible for any individual artist. In addition, under pro-rata if an individual listener plays Sleep Fruits overnight, every night, it doesn't change the value of their "real" music-listening activity during the day. Those artists get the same benefit from those fans as they would from a listener who sleeps in silence.  

Under the oft-proposed user-centric payment system, in which each listener's payments are split according to only their plays, Sleep Fruits' short-track abuse tactic would be less effective for them. Not as much less effective as you might think, because the same two things that inflate their overall numbers (long-duration background playing + short tracks) inflate their share of each listener's plays. But less, because in the pro-rata model one listener can direct more revenue than they contributed, and in the user-centric model they can't.  

In the user-centric model, though, if an individual listener listens to Sleep Fruits overnight, that directly reduces the money that goes to their daytime artists. Where pro-rata disperses the burden, user-centric would concentrate it on the kinds of artists whose fans also listen to background noise. This is probably worse in overall fairness, and it's definitely worse in terms of the listener-artist relationship, which is one of the key emotional arguments for the user-centric model.  

The interesting additional economic twist to this particular case, though, is that sleeping to background noise works very badly if it's interrupted by ads. Background listening is thus a powerful incentive for paid subscriptions over ad-supported streaming. (Audiobooks similarly, since they essentially require full on-demand listening control.) So if Sleep Fruits drives background listeners to subscribe, it might be bringing in additional money that could offset or even exceed the amount extracted by its abuse. (Maybe. The counterfactual here is hard to assess quantitatively.)  

And although the :30 rule is what made this example newsworthy in its exaggerated effect, in truth it's probably not really the fundamental problem. The deeper issue is just that we subjectively value music based on the attention we pay to it, but we haven't figured out a good way to translate between attention paid and money paid. Switching from play-share to time-share would eliminate the advantage of cutting up rain noise into :30 lengths, but wouldn't change the imbalance between 8 hours/night of sleep loops and 1-2 hours/day of music listening. CDs "solved" this by making you pay for your expected attention with a high fixed entry price, which isn't really any more sensible.  

I don't think we're going to solve this with just math, which disappoints me personally, since I'm pretty good at solving math-solvable things with math. But in general I think time-share is a slightly closer approximation of attention-share than play-share, and thus preferable. And rather than trying to discount low-attention listening, which seems problematic and thankless and negative, it seems more practical and appealing to me to try to add incremental additional rewards to high-attention fandom. E.g. higher-cost subscription plans in which the extra money goes directly to artists of the listener's choice, in the form of microfanclubs supported by platform-provided community features. There are a lot of people who, like me, used to spend a lot more than $10/month on music, and could probably be convinced to spend more than that again if there were reasons.  

Of course, not coincidentally, I have ideas about community features that can be provided with math. Lots of ideas. They come to me every :30 while I sleep.  

PS: I've seen some speculation that Sleep Fruits is buying their streams. I'm involved enough in fraud-detection at Spotify to say with at least a little bit of confidence that this is probably not the case. Large-scale fraud is pretty easy to detect, and the scale of this is large. It's abusing a systemic weakness, but not obviously dishonestly.
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