Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spotify: losing a bit of its 'free'ness

Yesterday, Spotify's Daniel Ek announced upcoming changes to the music-streaming service's Free service. While it is not an alarming nor a revolutionary alteration that could change the listenership of Spotify as we know it, the news still has potential to affect a great deal of listeners -- and Americans should pay particular attention.

Spotify has long presented an array of different services for prospective users. The Premium and Unlimited services, which are paid and allow unlimited access to all songs in Spotify's catalog as well as unlimited streaming during a given week (not to mention the ability to use the service on one's phone), make up about 1 million users in Europe, where Spotify has actually been released thus far. The total number of users? 10 million.

The other roughly 9 million users are patrons of Spotify Free. Up to now, streaming has been limited to 20 hours a week, and certain albums (often the newest and in most demand records) are not available upon release. This has not affected those using Spotify Open (an invite-only free service), at least to my knowledge.

Come May 1, the already limited Free service will be limited further.

The 20-hour limit will be reduced to 10, and tracks can only be listened to within said week a maximum of five times. So if you're a user that enjoys listening to a song on repeat, forget about it, unless you so happen to cut yourself off at five plays. That said, this is only as I understand it. The latter is thus far a bit unclear, however. It may not be five plays per week... it may instead be five plays, period.

Clearly this is all part of a push to add more paid users. While Spotify is insanely popular in Europe, advertising on the Free accounts can only do so much to rake in funds. If Spotify is to continue to exist at all, something needed to happen. This appears to be that something.

But here's the reason I believe Americans should pay attention. Obviously, Spotify has not launched over here, save for those select few that have been able to come by one of the services (I may or may not be included in this tally). However, it has been no secret that Spotify has aspirations to expand. The issue up to now? The record companies.

The record companies have been weary of the Free service, and for good reason. What incentive is there for them to give away their music for free, after all -- especially given the current state of the industry.

My thoughts? I see the current alteration of Spotify's Free accounts to have a much larger underlying intention -- that of a future US release that will possibly come before the end of 2011.

It is possible that the "okay, we'll have the Free service but curtail it from its original state" stance is something that was created while the record execs and those from Spotify met to figure out some sort of agreement that would please both sides in an eventual US release.

I'm not saying this is a truthful statement; it's an opinion more than anything. But the signs point toward a US release, I think. Should this new way of doing things at Spotify prove beneficial, I think we will see a very similar (if not identical) model once Spotify comes ashore.

I have long been an advocate of Spotify and plan to obtain the service, whether I must pay for it or not. I'm still not 100 percent sure what I think about the new changes; I'll have to let you know in about a month. This, however, is where I see Spotify going.