Spotify Europe Aligns for US Launch

With the announcement that Spotify is reducing the amount of free music non-subscribers can listen to, the blogosphere and tech sites have predictably gone a bit mad today with accusation, speculation and frustration. But here are the facts:

  • After six months on the current service, Spotify Free and Spotify Open users will be able to listen to 10 hours of free music every month for as long as they want. If they listen to one particular track more than five times, they’ll need to subscribe to Spotify or purchase the track to continue listening.
  • If like me you value music and understand that the artists and creatives involved need to get paid for their work, you’ll subscribe to the £5 or £10 a month service. In which case nothing has changed.

There’s lots of speculation as to why Spotify has made this change. The Telegraph reports that they were forced to do it by the record labels. That sounds like one likely reason, and would seem to tie in with the reported demands the major labels have put on Spotify to support a US launch. I’d always suspected that Spotify USA would need to be a streamlined version of Spotify Europe. This move levels the playing field and now means that the Spotify experience will be the same no matter where you live. It will of course also reduce costs (since Spotify needs to pay for every play of every song) – increasing the chances that Spotify will prosper.

I’ve read lots of posts and stories about this today. Here are the best:

Despite the polarization of comments on the Spotify blog (Premium Users: Makes sense – we love Spotify! Free Users: Boo hoo we iz gonna go to Grooveshark), this change to the free offering is bound to bring in more premium subscribers and for the artists who give us their music on that wonderful, immense platform this can only be a good thing.

  • Matt

    People using this service need to start demanding that our connections are not used to run it..

    Its fine paying £5 or £10… but to use our upload to supply the servers is a sham.

    I don’t mind paying if they are going to fork out the costs to upload. A lot of people don’t know this fact and how spotify abuses our connections for their own gain and its just not right.

  • As well as leveraging connected users’ upstream for an effective P2P of cached data (thereby meaning that people are effectively paying for the privilege of Spotify’s streaming service), it feels a lot like the free service is being intentionally crippled so that people will have no real choice but to pay if they want to continue using Spotify at all.

    Fine, limit monthly playing time; but ‘five plays of any individual track, ever’? What’s the point of being able to create playlists? ‘Here’s a list of your favourite tracks! After next week, you’ll probably never be able to listen to this again’.

    I’m all for the subscriber model (in fact I was a subscriber until my card expired a couple of months ago), but this feels a lot less like an option and a lot more like being strong-armed into paying for a service or going elsewhere. And I believe that’s exactly what Spotify are depending upon with this move.

    In the Spotify blog’s comments, comparisons to radio or buying ‘one CD a month’ are specious; Radio 1 won’t stop transmitting to my car once I’ve heard a track more than five times, and it’s definitely not like buying a CD. If it was, I’d own the music, but with Spotify I don’t; I’m paying for the convenience of streaming. That’s all.

    And to be honest, I think it’s a little demeaning to portray the comments of people who weren’t fans of this move as semi-literate txt-spk piratez. There were a lot of clearly thought-out and well-stated arguments. Bad form, really.

  • Mystogan

    I agree with Lawrie, to portray those who are against the announced changes as illiterates is not right at all. There were many legitimate concerns ranging from simply not being able to afford it to a lack of payment options not being available.

    I think there won’t be as many complaints if the only announcement was the reduction to 10 hours per month for free users with a truthful explanation as to why. This would likely have positively spurred users to support Spotify with subscriptions so that the service grows, with the understanding that this measure had to be taken in the first place due to the lack of users subscribing. However to limit users to 5 plays per track and proclaiming that users will hardly hit this limit goes against the active social community created around playlists and recommendations specifically for their platform.

    Are users who do not go anywhere near the 10 hour limit and only want to listen to their favourite playlists more than 5 times heavy users of Spotify? Remember free users are being served with regular advertisements and their internet connections are being used to enable Spotify to run efficiently via P2P technology. Now are free users illiterates because they either can’t or decide not to pay?

  • Matt, it’s true that Spotify tend to keep quiet about the p2p aspect of their service. Ultimately it’s essential to the quality of service though (extremely low latency) and means that they can keep their server costs at a minimum. I have bags of bandwidth on Virgin Media ISP, but if it was a concern I’d probably look to a bandwidth limiter to shape the uploads from the Spotify process.

    Lawrie, thanks for your thoughtful comment. The “five plays only” limit does seem crippling and reeks of record label interference. I’m guessing it was that or no USA launch.

    I agree there were some good, reasoned arguments from the non-subscribers but the majority seemed to think Grooveshark and piracy was the only alternative.

  • Spotifys_little_helper

    I really love your blog and I enjoy reading it for what seems like ages but this article feels a little one-sided.

    “[…]is bound to bring in more premium subscribers and for the artists who give us their music on that wonderful, immense platform this can only be a good thing.

    Really? What makes you think this will happen? From the reaction I see, many people lost their interest in Spotify now the free service got crippled. Most people will leave, not sign up. The ad revenue will see a drastic change for the worse, Spotify will lose ad partners and who will be the winner? No one! Let’s not forget that 40% of the total income comes from ads, that’s not the majority but a quite big piece of the cake. Also, all this will mean less total plays which also means less clicks/plays for smaller artists on Spotify (some are making more money with Spotify than with selling their music) which will help no one either but damage some bands and make others think twice about joining the Spotify family.

    I’m a Premium user, too but I will cancel my subscription because of these changes. I think you’re forgetting were Spotify came from and what its ideals were. The free service was what made the difference, what set Spotify apart from everything that already existed and it was a set goal for Spotify to combat piracy by offering a legal way to listen to music for free to people who didn’t pay for their music to begin with. Spotify was forced to sell out in a market where everything that count is expanding and pleasing the majors.

    Why should I give my money to Spotify now after the changes? What’s with the ideals that I supported now? They just became a generic premium streaming service. They don’t make a difference anymore.

    It’s a good service, don’t get me wrong and 10€/5€ is not too much asked for what they have to offer but I don’t feel the love I had for Spotify anymore. I’m siding with the “Boo hoo we iz gonna go to Grooveshark” crowd (which by the way is a completely unnecessary choice of words, making the non-premium users look like idiots and what made me dislike this article the most).

  • Thanks for commenting Mystogan and Spotifys_little_helper. Perhaps my hasty words at the end there were poorly chosen; I was just frustrated that so many non-payers were complaining that their free music was being restricted. It seemed to me that many of those guys will never pay for music and are just annoyed that Spotify was “forcing” them back to illegal methods.

    As for Spotify’s ideals… well, this is clearly a huge blow to their customer message but ultimately Spotify are there to make money for their investors: it’s a business after all. Whether the record labels have just killed their silver goose remains to be seen, but I do expect a reasonable jump in the number of premium subscribers, at least in the short-term. There was a lot of venting today but once the dust has settled (and other services follow suit) I’m sure a chunk of free users will take the hit and decide that yeah, it’s a quality service and £5/month isn’t so bad.

  • Spotifys_little_helper

    Thanks for your reply, afront!

    I can get why you were frustrated as I saw a lot of unnecessary comments, too. Far more annoying and stupid for me although seemed the Premium users who just stated “Well done! Nothing is free! Lose the cheap freeloaders! Get a job and pay 5$ you pathetic poor loser!” And yes, that’s the main message when you read the Premium user comments, of course I don’t want to generalize but I saw that quite often. It made the Premium users look like snobby pricks and made me even more angry than the stupid “LOL, back to piracy!” comments because that wasn’t the main concept when Spotify started. Premium was seen as supporting the main goal which was to be a free alternative to pirating and bringing those who didn’t pay for anything back to a concept everyone was profiting from.

    “[…]but ultimately Spotify are there to make money for their investors: it’s a business after all.
    And that is exactly what bothers me. They don’t make a difference anymore, they’re just like any other premium streaming service now, bending over for the industry rather than challenging the majors with groundbreaking new concepts. Let’s face it, that’s what we need! This stiff and restrictive system of the industry isn’t helping anyone but the majors. Spotify aimed to break up these crusted concepts at the beginning and failed. That’s what hurts. The industry won again. Spotify now represents just one more of those lost battles in a war that’s almost lost already. At least one hero has fallen today, in my books. Good luck Spotify, but I’m out as I don’t see a reason to give my support anymore.

  • sickofmotion

    “If like me you value music and understand that the artists and creatives involved need to get paid for their work…”

    … then instead of giving your money to another middle man you’ll give it directly to the artists and small labels 🙂

    Sorry, I had to, because once again people who think streaming is not worth paying are labelled as brainless and ethics-less, or cheap. Spotify is a lot like Youtube, what you get is only virtual, you don’t own anything and some people refuse to pay for that. If Youtube stopped being free or tried to limit usage, people would just move on to another website. And it’s the same thing for Spotify.

    I spend more money on buying music each month than I would on a spotify premium account, but at least I know where my money’s going and it’s not to Spotify or Sony.

  • @sickofmotion:

    YouTube is global though, which means it is possible to make a lot of money from music there due to the pure scale of it all. Spotify is only available in seven European countries which makes it very difficult to compare. However, it would have been interesting to see how many premium subscribers Spotify would have attracted if the free version were available worldwide. It’s a shame that we will never find that out now.

    In addition, if you are going to listen to new music outside of Spotify – and pay for it – you are essentially forced to piracy unless you are a millionaire. 😉

  • I’m a reformed pirate, that gets 30% discount at a high street music store (the last one left) and Spotify is still the best option for getting quantity and quality. I signed up almost 2 years ago and thought it should have gone premium only back then, the fact the free version is still around should be seen as a victory although it certainly seems to have angered those that obviously never intended to pay for the service.

  • Except, @syknyk, that I HAVE been paying for the service, and this move has made me angry. I know several other premium members who have been put off by Spotify pulling the carpet out from under its users, and they will not be renewing their membership as a result.

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