‘The market will return to quality and forget MP3, it’s just a matter of time’, says Qobuz CEO

Georges Fornay, deputy CEO at high-res audio music streaming platform Qobuz, has outlined his vision to “bring quality back to the music market” in a new interview with Audio Media International

Fornay, who was appointed deputy CEO of the French streaming company back in September, began working with Qobuz in a consultancy capacity in early 2019. With a strong background in developing brands in the gaming market – over the past 35 years he has played a key role in establishing brands such as Commodore and PlayStation – he is now tasked with spearheading Qobuz’s expansion plans and establishing the brand as the go-to platform for serious music fans. 

The platform offers streaming and download options in CD and studio (high res) audio quality across a library of 60 million-plus titles. Fornay’s appointment comes as part of a major expansion plans, with the firm recently announcing that it has raised €10 million to drive international growth with a focus on international recruitment and marketing. In its last fiscal year, Qobuz registered 45 per cent growth and revealed that it is now available in 12 countries. 

Here, Fornay tells AMI about his plans for the company and why it is “only a matter of time” until the industry calls time on MP3s…

Congratulations on your new role, Georges. What attracted you to the role?
Thank you. In February 2019, I started acting as a consultant to help Denis Thebaud, the main shareholder of Qobuz, on several organisational issues. Denis asked me a few months ago to run the company. It was not the original plan, but I found it was an exciting challenge to try developing a brand like Qobuz. I did it twice in my life: first, back in 1985 when I joined Commodore – one of the pioneers of the personal computer – to launch a subsidiary on the French market, and secondly, 25 years ago when Sony wanted to launch the PlayStation in Europe. I come from the video game business, but I think there are similarities in both: it is the entertainment business, it is fast-growing, the product is sexy, the business model and the technology are getting closer: cloud computing and paid subscription are now the two turbos of the music, home video, and game entertainment business.

What are your top priorities for the business in your capacity as deputy CEO?
To build a strong and talented management team, to develop the brand, and boost the growth of the company.

In September, Qobuz announced strategic fundraising of €10 million from shareholders. How will these funds be spent?
To recruit people and set up teams in key countries, develop brand awareness, and expand geographically. We opened an office in New York in February 2019, and we operate now in 12 countries, but we still address only 1/3 of our market potential, which is focused on paid subscription model and download.   

Qobuz is now available in 12 countries. What are your plans for increasing this number?
We will open in six new countries in the next coming months, and we have plans to open several others in 2021.

What is the company’s strategy for communicating the benefits of high-res audio to music fans?
We do not target casual music fans. We would be foolish to try to compete with GAFAs and Spotify, and we would not survive very long. We concentrate on a niche market, which can be defined as people who know about music, who are sensitive to sound quality. People who want to know more about artists, about albums, about music in general. They are music aficionados. Everybody can say they love music, but a much lower percentage is really interested in music compared to people who might be interested in cars, watches, etc., or those who simply want the best. 

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A large portion of our audience have beautiful HiFi equipment, and they need the best sound. We stopped offering MP3 quality a few months ago, we simplified our offers, and we now give access to the best sound quality, Hi-Res 24-Bit up to 192Khz. We are convinced the music market will be back to quality and forget MP3; it is only a matter of time. When I joined Commodore back in 1985, the market was less than just a few billion USD. When I joined Sony in 1995, video games were a toy for 15 years old kids, and today 40 years old adults play online, and the market will reach 200 billion USD soon. I know things may take time to happen, but I am convinced it will happen. Paradoxically, a young person today listens to such a poor music quality, a much lower quality than 40 years ago when people listened to their physical albums. Our mission is to bring back quality to the music market, and it is the interest of all people involved in the music industry.

What is the long-term strategy for Qobuz?
To focus on very high quality, the best quality, Hi-Res, and nothing else. We aim to become the top high-end brand in the music industry. This niche will expand progressively. We want to supply the best to a qualitative audience, and we honestly do not look at all to the mass market audience. Good music has a price; we are more expensive, but we deliver the best sound – the sound quality the artists used to register their songs because we write and speak about music like nobody else. We have more than 500,000 articles about artists, albums, critics, etc. We don’t use algorithms to recommend the same songs to everybody.

How important is it to artists that they feel their work is being heard in the way that it was intended?
This is at the heart of our proposition; we try to deliver the best sound and write about music so that all the effort they put in is reaching their audience most accurately.

Streaming platforms – Spotify in particular – have been criticised for the amount of money they pay artists. Is Qobuz any different from other streaming platforms in this regard? What is it doing to offer artists a better deal?
Qobuz has no direct relation with artists. The three majors, other labels, and collecting companies are in direct relation with the artists. We are proposing Hi-Res downloads and streaming services. We deliver the best quality, and therefore, we are more expensive; quality has a price. Because our ARPU is much higher than any other platforms, the labels and collecting society who are paying the artists can give them back much more than any other platforms, particularly with downloads where the artists are rewarded individually. We don’t discount massively low price offers with free trial periods, which do not reward the artists. 

What is your message to those who have not yet experienced high res audio streaming/downloads?
The day you try it, you will discover you have never been listening to pure music.