Pirates are jumping the shark over Spotify's new service

14 April 2011

spotify-logoTo read the output from tech blogs this morning, you'd think Spotify had strangled a bagful of kittens in public. Maybe they well have, or indeed are planning to do so, but that isn't what's caused a meltdown in today's coverage of the service.

In case you don't know, Spotify is a music player that lets you create and stream playlists from millions of tracks. There's a free service which limits usage and plays commercials; there's an Unlimited subscription for £5 per month that has no restrictions; and there's Spotify Premium for £10 per month that allows you to save playlists offline and sync your collection with your mobile.

Spotify has today announced that it's changing the restrictions on the free service; instead of being able to stream 20 hours of music a month, new users will only be able to do so for the first six months, after which they'll only be able to stream 10 hours a month. Also, new users signing up from May will only be able to stream an individual track five times.

To reiterate; Spotify isn't axing its free service. It still exists and will continue to do so. Spotify are restricting their free service, because it'd be a idiotic business plan that sees a company give away free music to everyone forever. Spotify pays music labels for every track streamed, and since the service is likely to launch in the US shortly, there's a good chance that the current model of usage won't scale as well.

Regardless, the point of the free service is to encourage subscriptions - you trial it, you discover the various feature sets, you like it and you subscribe. It's a business, after all, not some global initiative to ensure every man woman and child can listen to La Roux.

And yet, the first to comment on Spotify's blog dismissed any suggestion of change out-of-hand, and did so in the most ridiculous way:

Bitterwallet - Spotify piracy 1Bitterwallet - Spotify piracy 2

Those are perhaps two of the most selfish, self-absorbed comments I've ever read on a blog. Justifying piracy as a valid alternative to paying £5 a month for an all-you-can-eat music service is nonsensical. People who want to pirate music will no doubt continue to do so, but the fact remains that the justification for doing so made sense when the music industry held a monopoly on pricing and platform. That simply doesn't exist now; there are dozens of digital start-ups are finding innovative ways to fund music distribution at minimal cost.

The sentiment has toppled the wrong way; pirates can't claim to be sticking it to The Music Man anymore when third party services now provide access to music for pennies. It isn't about liberating music or pleading poverty; it's lazy and spoilt, and you can't claim to value a product you are prepared to pay nothing whatsoever for, no matter how low the price goes.

As the founder of Instapaper, Marco Arment said: "People will pay for something they like because they want to ensure its future." And as another commenter posted on the subject: "Saying piracy is free isn't a good answer."

TOPICS:   Technology

45 comments

  • .
    "Jumping the shark" doesn't mean what you think it does. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumping_the_shark
  • Alan P.
    The Free service is supposedly Asd supported......
  • Chris
    £5 per month for Spotify is amazing value. You get UNLIMITED music. Presumably those commenters are also outraged at the fact that they have to pay for their internet connection so they can pirate their music. @Alan P, I expect the ads only partially support the free service, not cover the costs completely.
  • klingelton
    suppose i might speed up the sign up to spotify premium then. £10 a month for all you can eat music streamed to your bored ears at work. Bargain in my books. all hail spotify!! KING OF MUSIC!
  • Rich T.
    It seems that a lot of people have become used to the idea of free access to content on the web. Sharing information is one thing.. this is months/years of hard work by talented individuals. How do they expect quality services like Spotify to exist sustainably? Stop free-loading.. I'm sure you can afford 17 pence per day (£5/month). I'll be upgrading.
  • Rich
    Unfortunately, you've missed the point slightly. Previously, the public free service (Spotify Open) was restricted to 20 hours, whilst the old timers who joined back when it was in private beta and acted as its spokespeople to their friends got unlimited music (under Spotify Free). This new change affects *all* free subscribers, Open and Free alike, and so you can understand why all the old-folk are frustrated and are venting. Going from 'unlimited' to '10hours/month, 5 listens per month' is quite a change. The major problem is that many joined Spotify over other paid subscription systems (such as Napster, Rdio, Qriocity etc.) because they preferred the advertising-based model over the paid subscription model. Whilst I understand the actions of Spotify is because the costs outweigh their income, it is still a frustration, and it wouldn't surprise me that the backlash will see a raise in users for We7, Grooveshark, MFlow and the myriad of other free services that popped up in the wake of Spotify.
  • Tweedskin
    "Thanks for destroying a community of music lovers" What a Cunt! The community of music lovers are the people who pay for it, knowing that the artist will be getting paid for their hard work and will keep them producing it in the future.
  • Dave
    "Those are perhaps two of the most selfish, self-absorbed comments I’ve ever read on a blog. " At least they're honest, and many others will follow suit. Look at your back statement each month - 30 quid for a phone, a fiver for xbox live, then your travel card, your Internets, your babe station subscription. Adding another five pounds for something that you can easily get for free is not very appealing. I don't really think Spotify stand a chance if they continue down this route. Which is a shame as it's an excellent service.
  • Super S.
    I have a Spotify Unlimited subscription and I share it with two mates, paying only £3 a month for unlimited music on my mobile. How reasonable is that? Its like buying an album once every three months for me. Anyways, I think they are well within their rights to try and drive sales. Its a great service. Fair fucks to them.
  • Super S.
    Whoops: I have a Spotify Premium subscription.
  • Paul S.
    Re. "jumping the shark" - the viewpoint of the post is that I could understand how piracy could be justified in the past, but when piracy is threatened in the face of a £5 subscription, any such justification falls apart. Pirates. Sharks? See? Oh. Would you like a refund? Rich - I haven't missed the point. I was also using Spotify from the start. I don't feel angry or betrayed, I got a great deal out of it, but I also understand why some users will be upset. Start-ups change models all the time and I'm sure some users will take up some of the services you mention. That's a completely different mentality to suggesting piracy is a reasonable alternative.
  • Rich
    "That’s a completely different mentality to suggesting piracy is a reasonable alternative." Paul: I totally agree with your sentiments there: I too feel that 'piracy' is not the alternative, and that many of the people who say 'yay, piracy' in the face of any of this needs a thwack round the lughole. However, the sentiments of the few are not the opinions of the many, and I was more saying you were 'missing the point' by saying that people didn't have a right to grumble when a company dramatically moves the goalposts. As stated in this MusicAlley article (http://bit.ly/gh6Pdk), 2/3rds of free users are under-29 and sadly, that's also the demographic more likely to openly pirate music rather than purchase it according to the industry and also the demographic most vocal - as such, plenty of complainers and plenty of idle threats towards 'going back' to piracy.
  • Dave B.
    Not sure if I'm just not as "right on" as some of the above posters but let's not kid ourselves. Spotify pay artists a miserly amount.. in fact Lady Gaga was paid the grand sum of £108 for 1 million plays. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/spotify-1-million-plays-163108-return-1944051.html So I won't be listening from now on, as it seems any subscription revenues will not find their way into artists pockets. So may as well do what millions of have been doing for years - downloading albums for free and supporting the artist directly by going to their live shows.
  • joshuua
    i might buy a radio lol. gutted about this as being with spotify from the start but 30 quid for the year i think is all id pay before i switch services but i am a poor student
  • Phil
    Well I'm leaving - I've got to deal with plenty of other extra costs at the moment so i don't want to spend the £5 a month. Also I just don't appreciate music as much as some of you obviously do as for me its just background noise while i'm working. I'll just switch to internet radio.
  • dfg
    Spotify really is not that good. It is definitely not worth a fiver a month. If they really did have everything then it would be fine, but they don't so it is really not worth it. I know a lot of people who use the free who cannot afford another five a month going out.
  • Vanderdecken
    Yo ho, Vanderdecken here (yes, the poster of the second of your two quoted comments on the Spotify blog announcement). I will reply at greater length when I'm typing on a physical keyboard, but just thought I'd agree with Rich's last comment, and point out one thing - from a cursory glance at your About page, isn't Bitterwallet about disgruntled consumers bitching when, as Rich excellently put it, "a company dramatically moves the goalposts"? Although frankly I'm surprised people picked up on my brief and sweeping mention of piracy in contrast to my melodramatic comment about "destroying a community of music lovers" (thank you, Tweedskin, I'll address why you missed the point on that one later).
  • Super S.
    To refer to "disgruntled consumers" when you don't actually pay for anything (fair enough you use it) is a bit rich. Its a free service. Wind your neck in and take it on the chin. They are a business and need to make money to survive. Thats how the world works and, if done honestly, it works.
  • Vicky
    It's funny watching this unfold in light of the NYTimes paywall (which ironically didn't affect me since I get all my links via email newsletters). The general complaints about the NYTimes model was that people wanted to support the newspaper, but not at the rates they were forcing them to have (I think it was around $35 a month, and more if you wanted the iPad version). £5 a month to be getting unlimited music legally? Sounds reasonable to me (to the point that I just upgraded).
  • hmmm
    Those supporting the artist don't use Spotify but buy the music directly, artists get sod all from spotify (they would have to have > 4.5 MILLION listens per month to make minimum wage compared to a few hundred album sales if they make it themselves or get ~1000 album sales on iTunes). Pirates are also the biggest buyers of music and films, so the freeloader principle is a crock. If I can listen to something for free then buy it I will, not by listening to the same track on spotify numerous times over http://www.cultofmac.com/infographic-most-artists-earn-more-revenue-through-itunes-than-at-retail/38097 The price isn't the issue for me, I spend a lot more than that on albums each month, the issue for me is the share of revenue not being proportional to that of traditional sales.
  • Super S.
    That is a different debate. This is about Spotify downgrading their free service, not whether Spotify is good for the artists or not.
  • Alexis
    This misses the point. It's not 'free', it's ad supported. The deal was that you could listen to unlimited music in exchange for having to listen to an advert every 10 minutes or so. Now the deal has been altered so that in exchange for listening to advertising, you get less. A lot less. 20minutes a day and a cap on listening to a song more than 5 times. For some, that's not a service that is worth having to sit through mostly awful adverts at frequent intervals. So is it worth paying £60 a year to avoid this? For the casual user probably not. Luckily you can use Audio Hijack to rip the tracks to MP3's anyway. In my book that's no more immoral than iPlayer or recording off the radio.
  • Tweedskin
    @ Vanderdecken I think you're missing the point. You're complaining about a service THAT IS FREE and still is FREE yet with a reduced amount of content available to you. You mention you enjoy "sharing and the ease of making playlists". Are the developers, salespeople, hosting companies, record labels, data services etc paid with pixie dust do you think? Or do you think that they would love to work for free simply so that you can have the benefit of free music delivered to your ear holes? Yes, people prefer things to be free. I would love music for free. But the reality of it is that spotify, artisits (and maybe one or two people at) record labels are hard working people. They don't put all this effort in for nothing. And by paying them, you're ensuring that this work can continue in the future. And hmmm....the reason why artist's get paid less through spotify is the fact that users are not buying the music, merely listening to it. But then again....if more people signed up for premium/unlimited, which at £5/£10 a month is a piss in the ocean, artists would receive higher renumeration.
  • Tweedskin
    @ Alexis How is iPlayer immoral? It's content that you've paid for with your license fee so why shouldn't it be available when you want it?
  • Dick
    > Those are perhaps two of the most selfish, self-absorbed comments I’ve ever read on a blog. I simply better than all the fuckwitted mongs that have posted above me. Do I win?
  • Staffan V.
    Well, the cost isn't that high for Spotify, but Last.fm costs a third as much and has a wider selection of music.
  • Alexis
    @tweedskin Exactly. How is recording content and listening or watching it later any different from recording Spotify tracks with Audio Jacker? (although you do not need a TV Licence to use iPlayer)
  • Vanderdecken
    Right, here goes. To begin: I do not fully stand behind every word of my comment. I'd just woken up, opened my Twitter feed, got linked to this and posted a reactionary comment that required no planning and no re-editing of wording (i.e. I read the blog post, typed the comment in sequence without going back and changing anything for clarity etc., posted it and closed the tab). It doesn't reflect a coherent, considered argument, or the full breadth of my considered opinion on this. If I'd posted it two hours later, it'd be halfway down the fourth page of comments and hardly anyone outside Spotify would've read it, much less singled it out for analysis among all the others that say the same thing. It's largely a case of wrong time, wrong place that I'm involved in the debate on this page at all, therefore, but I'm going to argue a few points anyway; largely because it's been a while since I had a good internet debate, and I feel that I've been misunderstood. To clarify some of the points I made in my comment: The 'goodbye' etc. was largely reactionary. I probably (not definitely) won't leave Spotify, chances are I'll end up paying £4.99/month for Unlimited. I am a student, and a lot of people have raised perfectly valid (for some) points that students, who live off borrowed money and don't necessarily have the kind of schedule that allows them to get a job, might not be able to afford a Spotify subscription even if they want to, on top of their other bills and expenses. I certainly have the money to afford a subscription; my bank account's never been out of the black and I manage my money carefully - if I forego two drinks a month or one canteen meal I could find the money and not change my outgoings. However, I'm not sure I want to rent my music collection. Contrary to other people's assertions that I must be a filthy and prolific pirate with no moral backbone or concern for artists, I do buy music. I spend money on CDs, and where possible try to buy music in a way that benefits the artists directly and most, rather than skimming off the top of my payment for intermediary organisations like record labels or content providers. I have downloaded music for my own listening without payment in the past (and that's what I'll define as 'piracy' for the purpose of this reply; not the distribution of copyright-protected content without restriction which is the true definition) - and almost always donated to the artist or gone and bought the music 'for real' if I've enjoyed it and kept it. Piracy in this way used to be by far the most convenient way to try out an album or an artist on demand to see if it was worth spending money on their CDs - that need was largely replaced by Spotify. I didn't begrudge the ad-supported system (although they were occasionally annoying, their necessity was obvious), particularly as it seemed to work and keep Spotify afloat whilst providing a very useful service. I assumed that the ad-supported paid-premium-option model was both supporting the service and giving the artists a reasonable cut - a reasonable assumption at the time, I feel. My suggestion of "Grooveshark/YouTube/piracy" was largely flippant, and meant to be as a way of sharing, discovering and trying music, not of sourcing all the music I ever listen to. And of those three, piracy is the last because it's the least convenient, and so a last resort. Then Spotify launched the social aspect - connection to a Facebook account, sharing of playlists and tracks with the inbox system and a profile page. This really changed the way Spotify was used, particularly among my generation of students - discovering music was all about sending it to friends, constructing playlists for moods and events and sharing them, having the music at a party be collaborative and chosen by everyone there, both in advance and at the time. The fact that anyone could get at least a Spotify Open account meant that almost any one of my friends (bearing in mind I'm of a generation and culture where almost every single one of my friends of the same generation is linked to me on Facebook and therefore Spotify Social) could send me a track with ease, comment on it and vice versa. Now of course it's completely possible to do this by other means - emailing a YouTube link (which, for what it's worth, is less legal and usually gives the artist even less money directly), copying an MP3 file or lending a CD - but Spotify provided a fantastically convenient framework for this. Being easier to do, people did it more often. I even did a radio show for 10 weeks where my co-presenter and I would agree on the music for the next show by sending tracks to each other on Spotify. If limits such as 10 hours of play a month and, more importantly, only 5 plays of each individual track *ever* per Spotify account are enforced, this turns people away - who wants to be sent a playlist by a friend where you can't listen to the whole thing because 10% of the tracks won't play because you've listened to them once a month since Christmas? Since the system is no longer universal - some have a different experience to others - and the limits seem more restrictive, Spotify will stop being so ubiquitous amongst social groups like mine, and it will no longer be the de facto way of sharing music with anyone - only a few friends who are willing or have the money to pay for a subscription will be available. This is what I meant by "destroying a community of music lovers" (and believe me, I regret the melodramatic phrasing now, thank you Tweedskin). I mentioned earlier that I'm not keen on the idea of renting my music collection. What I mean is this - with the free (ad-supported, don't forget that it's free-with-caveats) Spotify, my music is always available, as if I owned it. I must have an internet connection, but this is almost always a given. Of course at some point (as will soon happen), this stops being the case - Spotify shut down, or they stop offering things for free. This would inevitably happen at some point. However, I now have a choice - use something else like Grooveshark (which I hadn't realised is apparently illegitimate, anyone like to back that claim up with evidence?) to preview music and then buy it (I hate Grooveshark's interface and that it's trapped inside a browser, I wouldn't use it for my collection) on CD. Or I could pay for Spotify and carry on as I was. However, there's a problem - if I pay for Spotify, I pay regular amounts to maintain accessibility to my collection, however big that may be. But if I stop paying - can't afford it, don't feel it's worth it, no longer have internet access etc. - my entire collection suddenly vanishes. I've paid all that money and at the end I'm left with nothing tangible. So as soon as I've invested time and effort to build up a collection under subscription, my sense of worth of that effort pressures me into continuing to pay. And finally, on a far more general note, as Alexis says: "This misses the point. It’s not ‘free’, it’s ad supported. The deal was that you could listen to unlimited music in exchange for having to listen to an advert every 10 minutes or so. Now the deal has been altered so that in exchange for listening to advertising, you get less. A lot less. 20 minutes a day and a cap on listening to a song more than 5 times. For some, that’s not a service that is worth having to sit through mostly awful adverts at frequent intervals." The first few sentences of that express my disappointment at why I get to be called an ungrateful cunt for being upset when a good deal that I'd gotten used to gets shafted, and expressing my upset to the shafters. I'm not complaining that they've destroyed my life, that this is "the beginning of the end", that they've "no right" to do this or that I'm going to sue them or other such idiotic puffery. I'm just saddened that something very nice is being taken away. And this post has gone on long enough, so if there are any further points I've forgotten about, I'll regroup and post them in a day or two if this hasn't blown over by then. Apologies for the TL; DR.
  • Ronald R.
    ^FUCKIN 'ELL.
  • klingelton
    @Vanderdecken - Are you glad you didn't post about blowing up spotify?! I think your flippant comment highlights your need to check what your posting on such open forums.
  • phander
    Love this line. "It’s a business, after all, not some global initiative to ensure every man woman and child can listen to La Roux.”
  • Slacker
    Are people still listening to piss-poor quality MP3s and web audio streams? Really? That stone-age innovation the CD still sounds best, and if you do want to make a degraded copy to play on your iWank or whatever you can do that too. > if I pay for Spotify, I pay regular amounts to maintain accessibility to my collection, however big that may be. But if I stop paying – can’t afford it, don’t feel it’s worth it, no longer have internet access etc. – my entire collection suddenly vanishes. Surely anyone who does this is a world-class retard?
  • Shocked
    @Vanderdecken - Wow, a post longer than the article that it is attached to, is this really such a big issue? Its only spotify! At the end of the day its just a serivice and a luxury, each person has what they are and are not willing to spend on something like Spotiy (personally I would want to have the features that are with the £10 service for £5 and until that is offered, if it ever is, then I am not signing up) and if you dont agre with what they are offering, just dont use it. It doesnt need to be a big drama
  • FunkyB
    You lot are going to kill Vanderdecken. He posts a silly, short, flippant, comment, you all rant about his lack of clarity. He posts a mega reply that answers all your complaints, you complain that he's made it "a drama".
  • Businessman
    I am well outside the 15-29 demographic and my musical tastes are not really what you would call mainstream. That said, how come these music sites are so crap? Can't remember if I checked out Spotify or not but I am pretty sure I did most of them like We7 and all teh rest. None of them had more than about ten songs available when I typed in a genre (and I already had those anyway so can listen whenever I want.) Seems to me these super-leet streaming sites are just the same as that dopey music video channel that is always on in the gym (in between ads for how to get out of debt.)
  • crockett
    I'll be honest, this just makes me laugh. Use spotify if you want, it's great and £5 a month is nothing really, even on top of other bills like rent/gas/electric/internet/tv license. You're paying for a luxury item though, not an essential. There's still going to be those who will use Grooveshark but in the end who really gives a shit. Spotify is opening up to America and there'll be a lot of people there who'll be willing to pay. Bazinga.
  • Dan K.
    "However, there’s a problem – if I pay for Spotify, I pay regular amounts to maintain accessibility to my collection, however big that may be. But if I stop paying – can’t afford it, don’t feel it’s worth it, no longer have internet access etc. – my entire collection suddenly vanishes. I’ve paid all that money and at the end I’m left with nothing tangible. " This is the only part of your post that I have an issue with. Do you get to keep copies of every show on every TV channel you watch when you cancel your cable subscription? Does your telephone company send you recordings of all your phone calls when you switch to a different carrier? Does Netflix let you keep all the movies you stream instantly to your TV? All of those services, if you stop paying, leave you with nothing tangible. My point is, Spotify is a subscription service. Your "collection" is not yours at all. You are given the privilege of ACCESS, but not ownership. As for Grooveshark... well... its legality is up for debate. But it's not a good sign when Apple and Google have banned the Grooveshark app from their respective app stores.
  • Vanderdecken
    @Dan K: True, but then I'm pointing out that as with those (except the phone, not a good comparison since the carrier is providing the service but not the content) there is an alternative. I consider a TV licence (UK system) to be worth it, since there are many programmes I want to watch on TV that aren't available any other way, or I want to watch live. My point was that now that the Spotify deal is less favourable, I don't consider it worth the money and so will take the alternative of buying my music - just as if I didn't consider a TV licence worth it, I wouldn't pay it and would buy DVDs to consume television programmes. Although it helps that I live in a house with six other people, so a licence is only £20 per year each. I wouldn't pay for Netflix for this reason, I buy DVDs instead.
  • Shymarshall
    http://www.hotukdeals.com/deals/sony-wm-ex194-mega-bass-tape-walkman-10-99-delivered-play/917576?utm_source=google&utm_medium=Deal%2BList&utm_campaign=Expired%2BPage Just got me one of these bad boys. Does the job.
  • Kevin
    I get to listen to lots of music completely free. It's called a radio. Why is that free but other services listening to music not free? I know the answer of course but when you put it to someone who has grown up with the internet you can see their point. It works for the national radio stations (in that you don't need a radio licence anymore) and the commercial radio stations are still very popular, so why should you pay for a service (like Spotify) that can obviously be provided for free? Free listening to tracks on the radio (not to mention everything from TOTP, to MTV etc) is the way they have always sold their products by giving us the knowledge of their product so we want our own copy. What's changed? Nothing
  • Vanderdecken
    Commercial radio is funded by advertising. So was Spotify, apparently advertising wasn't enough to cover their costs (or they're being charged more by record labels, particularly as they're about to attempt to break into the US).
  • Why B.
    [...] week’s announcement that Spotify is to restrict its free service elicited much handwringing and no little anger from folks who think unlimited access to a world of [...]
  • Tim
    There seem to have been plenty of idiots running this exact business model (advert funded music, no direct cost to the consumer) for near 100 years. The main problem is as always with the music labels who have for the last 10 years been struggling to try and convert advert funded listening into consumer paid subscriber listening charged on a per item basis preferably. The other problem is that most of the artists are more interested in getting their stuff heard and get a cut of money from the play, but that doesn't mean they are against advert funded play at all. Artists stand to make far more money than they currently do if they were to cut out the big labels and go direct to the likes of Spotify.
  • Naryan
    I think that if they want to continue to pirate music, fine, but I have to admit that I'm not happy about the new usage policy. I would *much* rather they just drowned Spotify in ads than say, "OK, you know that song you like so damn much you just listened to five times over cause it's awesome? OK, well by the way, now you can't listen to it any more today... oh no, wait, ever. You can't listen to it again ever..." "Can I listen to something else today?" "No."
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