Music-lovers are outraged by Spotify’s decision to limit the free music they can listen to, and some have announced a return to piracy. Can we really expect an all-you-can-eat buffet of music whenever we want?
Most Spotify users don’t pay for the service, and under new rules (coming into force on 1 May) they’ll see their monthly listening allowance halved to 10 hours.
There will also be a limit of five plays per track in total. If you’ve got a new favourite must-listen track you want to hear night and day, you’ll either have to dig deep into your pockets and pay Spotify, or find it somewhere else.
Ads were a small price to pay
Since its UK launch in 2008, I’ve viewed Spotify as pretty much a no-brainer for anyone who’s even remotely interested in music. With millions of tracks available free and on-demand, your playlist being interspersed with some moderately annoying ads seemed a small price to pay.
I’ve used it to discover new music, share playlists with friends and, crucially, check out tracks I later went on to buy. Yes, by handing over real money to Amazon, 7digital or Play.com in exchange for owning an MP3 download or a CD.
Not a novel concept, but one that apparently seems alien to those who see only two routes to online music nirvana – streaming or piracy – both of them ostensibly without paying.
Spotify has tweaked its service over the years, introducing a Premium service for £10 a month which offers offline playlists and the ability to sync your music with your smartphone.
A more reasonable (in my humble opinion) £5 gives you access to unlimited ad-free music, and this is the option that I find more appealing. Not so appealing that I’ve yet signed up for it, however. I’m just not sure I’m ready to pay for what is effectively music rental. Music I really value is worth paying 69p a MP3 track for, or £5 per album download.
Get over it and cough up
Ultimately, Spotify has to start making money. Despite having 1m paying customers, the company lost £16.6m in 2009. Each time a track is streamed, Spotify must pay the record industry 1p in royalties. Multiply that by the millions of tracks played each day, and it soon adds up to a lot of negatives on the balance sheet.
Plus revenue from those annoying ads clearly isn’t adding up to enough to sustain its survival. And as it tries to move into the US market, pressure is growing from major record companies to reduce the generous free music offer it’s making to consumers.
So it’s time for Spotify to show some tough love to loyal users. Get over it, people. From May subscription-free Spotify will still be good, just maybe only half as good as it used to be. Other free online streaming sites do exist – I use Mflow, but rivals We7, Last.fm and Grooveshark all offer similar services.
In my view there’s still no excuse for music piracy – expecting a limitless supply of free music is simply naive. Spotify’s doing a reasonable job of juggling consumers, record companies and its own interests, and something clearly has to change. Unfortunately, when it comes to music, it’s proving impossible to keep all the people happy all the time.