Friday, 22 July 2011

Why I'm going near Spotify

See "Why I'm Not Going Near Spotify (and Why You Shouldn't Either)" at the Harvard Business Review blog, for James Allworth's take on what is wrong with the Spotify music service, which has just landed in the U.S.after three years of being Europe-only.

Basically, he objects to the whole "rental" approach to music distribution: "there's something pretty insidious buried inside music rental models like this. It's prime territory for a bait-and-switch strategy". Why? Because "Simply put: the way we consume music is fundamentally different to the way we consume movies and TV." We tend to watch movies just once, but listen to music tracks over and over. Of course we can listen to the same music over and over on Spotify, if that's what we want, but the way Allworth sees it if we do that then we leave ourselves open to price hikes further down the line.

I won't go into all the flaws in Allworth's analysis - plenty of other commenters have done that. I'll just repeat here what I said there.

'You talk about "owning" music on bits of plastic or on downloaded files, and listening to it over and over, as if that's the only model. Sure, we have our favourites, but how did we get to know in the first place that they were our favourites? That was where the radio that you mentioned in passing came in, plus getting recommendations from friends and borrowing their tracks. That's the area that Spotify covers well. With the imminent demise of the radio, without services such as Spotify we might spend our lives listening to just one genre or even just one band, without even realising that there are other genres and bands out there. Maybe that's what most people already do.

Spotify removes the huge barrier that keeps us from knowing about the whole world of music that's out there. With it we don't have to listen to the radio for days on end in the maybe forlorn hope that we'll hear something we like, and remember what it was called afterwards. It allows us to listen to new artists, and to revisit ones that we vaguely remember from many years ago, and explore the "long tail"  of maybe unjustifiably unknown works of the "one-hit wonders" as well as the most well-known artists, without having to spend thousands or even tens of thousands which we don't have on a vast library, most of which we probably won't listen to even once. It lets us discover out true musical tastes, and in doing so provides even the most obscure performer with an opportunity to connect with new audiences.'

That was three hours ago. Already "Nick Hevelian and 2 more liked this" - thanks, Nick et al. But PXTrials found a flaw in my phrasing:

'PXTrials 1 hour ago in reply to Martin Gradwell: Spotify removes the Huge Barrier"?!?  Let me think: Pandora,, Grooveshark, Rhapsody, Soundcloud, HD Radio, Sirius, and about 1 million internet radio stations.

You are right about the demise of traditional radio, but to say there is a huge barrier that necessitates the existence of Spotify makes me think you are living under a rock.'

So I made the following clarification:

'Martin Gradwell 0 minutes ago in reply to PXTrials: OK, maybe I worded that wrong. I was trying to counter the points that James Allworth was making, not trying to imply that Spotify was the only service with the business model that James finds so problematic. So I should have said "Spotify AND SIMILAR SERVICES remove the huge barrier that keeps us from knowing about the whole world of music that's out there."; with similar adjustments to the rest of the paragraph.

In fact I don't know about the other services you mention, not having tried them, but I'll say that probably do an even better job of introducing listeners to new music than Spotify, since they have "if you like A then you'll probably like B" down to a fine art. On the other hand, I think the sound quality tends to be better on Spotify, even on the most basic service. On,, if you bypass the "radio" because you know exactly which artist and track you want to listen to, the likelihood is that you'll get a low-quality embedded YouTube video of an out-take. Swings and roundabouts.

I like that has "Play on Spotify" links, showing that they see the two services as more complementary than competitive; but I think James would see them as both equally bad, because they both have the "wrong" business model.'

Now, what do you think?

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