As music goes missing, Spotify and Polydor blame each other
If you're a music fan, you might regard Spotify as the best thing that's ever gone in your ears. But problems over the availability of certain tracks are a constant niggle. Take That fans who are Spotify Premium members have been angered by the disappearance of the band's latest album from the service, one of several high profile releases that have been added to the Spotify catalogue, only to mysteriously disappear a few days later.
When users are paying £9.99 per month to access the Premium service, and the music that's being removed includes the fastest selling album of the decade, that seems mighty unfair.
Avid Bitterwallet reader Jessica has followed Gary, Robbie and the other three from boyband to manband, and from cassette to CD to iTunes to Spotify. So she was quick to store Take That's Progress album on her iPhone via her Spotify Premium account, but after only a few days of listening, the album disappeared, with Spotify telling her it was no longer available via the service.
“It's really frustrating, and it seems to be happening a lot," she says. “Spotify has changed how I buy and listen to music, and I pay for Premium so that I don't have to download albums from iTunes, but now I'm having to do both."
Take That's new album isn't the only one to have been removed; several others - all released by record label Polydor - have also disappeared days after being added to the service. A check through the Spotify catalogue reveals a clear pattern of Polydor albums being removed shortly after their release.
The Take That album was released on 15 November, and became available to Spotify users during that week; Spotify even tweeted fans a link to the album. But by last weekend it had disappeared from Spotify's UK catalogue. Other high-profile Polydor albums that were briefly available on Spotify before being pulled include Cheryl Cole's Messy Little Raindrops and Headlines by The Saturdays.
Another Spotify user, Steve Brammer, has also been riled by the situation. “It appears to be some kind of misguided marketing strategy," he told us. “If Spotify was only a free service then the argument for removing newly released tracks after a short time would hold more water. When a service is free, you get what you're given and can't complain too much."
"If the record companies think that people who are already paying £10 a month are also going to go out and buy an album either on CD or from iTunes because it has been removed from Spotify, then they are sorely mistaken. All they are doing is pissing people off and making Spotify a less attractive deal."
Polydor is owned by Universal Music Group, one of the major companies that Spotify promotes as a partner on its website. Yet Spotify's catalogue seems to be controlled at the whim of the labels, even where distribution agreements exist. Spotify told Bitterwallet:
“From time to time we're asked by rights holders to withdraw certain albums from the service. It's never in our interest to remove music as we want to provide our users with the biggest possible catalogue. We sincerely apologise to any Spotify users whose service has been disrupted."
As for Polydor, they've firmly pushed the blame back in Spotify's direction, claiming to be unaware that some of their biggest releases had been removed from the service. The label told us:
"We delivered these albums to Spotify to be uploaded onto Premium from release date and the fact they are not currently there is something we are working with Spotify to resolve. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.
To be clear, is it absolutely not a deliberate tactic or marketing ploy to make new albums available on Spotify on release and then remove them a few days later. We are big supporters of Spotify but it is a fairly new service and we are still fine tuning the best way to work with them from a technical/operational perspective and in a way which works best for fans and artists."
Polydor is currently promoting recent releases The Beginning by The Black Eyed Peas and Duffy's Endlessly, both of which are available on Spotify. But for how long?
As for Spotify, a failure to retain high profile new releases may restrict its subscriber base. “I can only see losers when tracks are removed from Spotify," says Steve Brammer. “The artist, record label, publisher, distributor and Spotify themselves all lose a moneymaking opportunity." And the biggest losers seem to be Spotify subscribers, who are paying for content that can disappear without warning.