Spo­tify mulls ‘paid-only’ op­tion for new mu­sic re­leases

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - ARTS & LIFE - By Ryan Nakashima

LOS AN­GE­LES — Mu­sic-stream­ing gi­ant Spo­tify is toy­ing with the idea of al­low­ing mu­si­cians to re­serve new re­leases for pay­ing sub­scribers, al­though it balked at do­ing so for Cold­play’s lat­est al­bum, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

Such a move might push some users of Spo­tify’s free version to up­grade to a US$10-a-month sub­scrip­tion. Artists and record la­bels have pres­sured Spo­tify to pay more for the mu­sic it streams.

A “paid-only” win­dow might also in­crease al­bum sales if it led more mu­sic fans to pur­chase mu­sic rather than wait months or years for it to be­come avail­able via cum­ber­some free op­tions in­volv­ing ads or the use of com­put­ers in­stead of phones or tablets. It’s also pos­si­ble it could tempt more peo­ple to seek out pi­rated mu­sic.

The per­son fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sions wasn’t au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about the mat­ter and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity. Spo­tify’s de­lib­er­a­tions were re­ported ear­lier by the Wall Street Jour­nal.

Spo­tify has ar­gued its “freemium” model has been a highly ef­fec­tive tool for gain­ing new pay­ing sub­scribers. The com­pany is the global leader in mu­sic stream­ing, with 20 mil­lion pay­ing cus­tomers and 75 mil­lion to­tal ac­tive users.

But artists such as Tay­lor Swift have said the free ser­vice de­val­ues their work. Last year, af­ter fail­ing to win an ex­cep­tion to have her mu­sic only on Spo­tify’s paid tier, she pulled all her mu­sic from the ser­vice, in­stead dis­tribut­ing it to paid-only stream­ing ser­vices such as Ap­ple Mu­sic. Sim­i­larly, Adele with­held her lat­est al­bum, 25, from all stream­ing ser­vices, which may have helped it achieve 4.5 mil­lion al­bum sales in its first two weeks in release.

Spo­tify spokesman Jonathan Prince said in a state­ment: “We ex­plored a wide range of pro­mo­tional op­tions for the new Cold­play al­bum and ul­ti­mately de­cided, to­gether with man­age­ment, that Cold­play and its fans would best be served with the full al­bum on both free and pre­mium.”

The al­bum was re­leased for sale last week.

Spo­tify is “100 per cent com­mit­ted to our model be­cause we be­lieve that a free, ad-sup­ported tier com­bined with a more ro­bust pre­mium tier is the best way to de­liver mu­sic to fans,” Prince said.

While it pub­licly has taken the line that its free and paid ser­vices must have the same mu­sic to at­tract new users, in ne­go­ti­a­tions, Spo­tify has ex­pressed a will­ing­ness to test out dif­fer­ent ways of re­leas­ing mu­sic, ac­cord­ing to two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with such talks.

How­ever, with few new big re­leases com­ing up this year, it’s un­clear when Spo­tify might start those tests.

Spo­tify’s free ser­vice is un­usu­ally gen­er­ous, al­low­ing users who are will­ing to tol­er­ate a few ads to se­lect an en­tire al­bum for free play­back on com­put­ers or on mo­bile de­vices, so long as the tracks are shuf­fled out of or­der. Other ser­vices, such as In­ter­net ra­dio gi­ant Pan­dora, ran­dom­ize play­back, making it im­pos­si­ble to lis­ten to a sin­gle al­bum all at once.

Spo­tify has al­ready ex­per­i­mented in smaller ways with re­serv­ing mu­sic for pay­ing cus­tomers. Ear­lier this year, the com­pany didn’t ini­tially make the 10-minute track The Glob­al­ist from Muse’s June release Drones freely avail­able, one of the peo­ple said. That track is cur­rently on both Spo­tify’s free and paid tiers.

A stream from a pay­ing sub­scriber earns artists and la­bels roughly 10 times what they’d re­ceive from a non-pay­ing user, one per­son said. Artists and la­bels are thus ex­tremely in­ter­ested in lim­it­ing stream­ing plays to pay­ing sub­scribers. That op­tion is less at­trac­tive for Spo­tify, which is still try­ing to use its free ser­vice as a hook to lure new users.

Stream­ing, while quite pop­u­lar, still only ap­peals to a frac­tion of the lis­ten­ing pub­lic. Only about one-third of sur­vey re­spon­dents in more than a dozen coun­tries had lis­tened to a free mu­sic stream­ing ser­vice in the last six months, ac­cord­ing to the 2015 Dig­i­tal Mu­sic Re­port by the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of the Phono­graphic In­dus­try.

There’s an­other dan­ger in cre­at­ing a “paid-only” win­dow for some artists, at least from Spo­tify’s per­spec­tive. If the tac­tic catches on, it might cre­ate a rush for the ex­its that makes the free ser­vice less at­trac­tive to new users.

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