Now that Spotify has successfully launched in America, you’ll find that there are few small differences between the USA version and the UK/European version. I expect we’ll see full parity soon, but for now here’s a look at what’s different between the two.
Missing from Spotify USA
- Download Service (purchase MP3s)
Spotify introduced its own MP3 purchase store back in May (replacing the outsource partnership it had with 7digital). This was a pretty big deal as it seemed to divert Spotfy’s emphasis from a music-streaming subscription service to, well, something like iTunes. The download exipiration policy also caused a bit of a stir, but on the whole this cheap download option was a welcome addition to Spotify’s growing arsenal of features.
In the US, it seems that Spotify currently only has a license to stream music, not to sell it. I’m sure this is only temporary, as it’s a good way for Spotify to get a few dollars from users who don’t upgrade to premium or who only have iPods. As to why there’s no download service in the US, there’s annecdotal evidence that Apple put pressure on the record labels to delay Spotify’s entry into the US market, so it’s no greap leap to speculate Apple having a hand in preventing Spotify from selling MP3s too (especially when Spotify’s bundle deals make them cheaper than iTunes). Conspiracy theories aside though, it’s probably just down to Spotify not being able to agree purchase terms with all the record labels in time for launch.
- Spotify Open
As we pointed out last month, there are actually two “flavors” of free on Spotify. Spotify Free is the original version, with unlimited listening hours and no play caps (at least for the first six months). This is the invite-only version being offered to American users. Spotify Open is the standard free version in Europe which doesn’t require any kind of invite. You just go to the Spotify website and sign up. Spotify Open has a 20 hours/month listening cap from the start though, so it’s slightly inferior. If you have a Spotify invite you can use it to sign up for Spotify Free in any country that has Spotify. And it doesn’t matter where you get your invite from: a British invite can get you into Spotify USA and vice versa.
- Spotify Radio
Users of online radio jukebox services like Pandora and Last.fm are used to handing control of the music over to the machine. You give it an artist name and it plays a selection of similar or related songs. For many this is a good way to discover new music. Spotify in Europe has had a Radio feature for some time now too, available on Spotify Free, Unlimited and Premium plans (but not on Spotify Open). There are actually two types of radio in Spotify: a regular Spotify Radio (which lets you mix up genres and decades) and an Artist Radio that’s more like Pandora. UPDATE 07/21: Artist Radio is now available on Spotify USA!
Although the Radio is available on Spotify Free in Europe, it’s partly missing from Spotify USA. No big loss in my opinion as I never used it (there are many excellent 3rd-party sites and apps that provide discovery services for Spotify) but it’s a curious omission. Perhaps this was due to demands from the American record labels wanting to preserve a unique selling point for (the recently floated) Pandora?
- Catalog size - There’s also reports that suggest the US catalog size is a fair bit smaller than in other countries, but that’s to be expected at launch and will surely grow exponentially over time. The main downside of this currently is that many of the thousands of pre-made playlists (such as the vast selection you’ll find on sharemyplaylists.com) will have greyed out tracks and popups declaring “not available in the United States”. My advice is to try again in a few weeks time: tracks are removed, replaced, and added to Spotify at a phenomenal rate (it averages around 10,000 new tracks per day).
Missing from Spotify UK and Europe
Compared with Spotify USA, Europeans aren’t really missing out on anything: the American version of Spotify doesn’t have any additional features. Where Europe does seem to lose out though is in cost. With the current exchange rates, a Spotify Premium account is over $6 per month more in the UK compared with the US. Of course, you need to factor local taxes into that but it does seem that Americans are still getting a much better deal than Europeans.
As for the listening hours, although it’s Spotify Free that’s being offered in America and not the (slightly inferior) Spotify Open, Europeans can still sign up to Spotify Free if they have a token, it’s just not advertised on the Spotify website any more.