Rory Cellan-Jones

All eyes on Spotify

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 7 Sep 09, 10:59 GMT

The Spotify application approved for iPhone use by Apple a few weeks ago - to the surprise of some, given the possible threat to iTunes - is up and running in the App Store this morning. What's more, there is also a version of the music-streaming service available for Google's Android mobile software, somewhat earlier than expected.

screengrab of Spotify desktop applicationSo the day of reckoning has arrived. Not just for Spotify or for the music industry - but for all those who believe that the future of online content depends on a mix of free and subscription content.

The Spotify app is only available to those who upgrade to the premium service - in other words, you have to be ready to pay £120 a year to get mobile access to unlimited music from its catalogue. While there is plenty of excitement about the new apps, it's by no means certain that this will prove a winner.

One person who will be looking on with particular interest is Rupert Murdoch. He has made it clear that he wants his News Corp titles - such as the Times and the Sun - to start charging for some online content as does his Wall Street Journal. Some are sceptical about his chances of getting online readers to cough up. But you can bet there will be a sophisticated offer, with a lot of free material plus a varied diet of premium extras - including, perhaps, mobile content only available to subscribers. Rather like Spotify.

So if the fast-growing music service fails to convince plenty of customers that it's worth paying quite a hefty price to take your playlists on the bus, then its backers will not be the only ones singing the blues.

Maybe Rupert Murdoch - whose own MySpace music offering has failed to make much of a splash so far - will be signing up to Spotify and sharing some playlists with friends. I'm sure both he and Daniel Ek, Spotify's founder, would join in this classic Motown chorus:

"The best things in life are free
But you can keep 'em for the birds and bees
Now give me money, that's what I want."


  • Comment number 1.

    this classic Motown chorus:

    "The best things in life are free
    But you can keep 'em for the birds and bees
    Now give me money, that's what I want."

    This song predates Motown. Just had to get it off my chest.

  • Comment number 2.

    £9.99 a month is too high a price for those used to using Spotify at home, for free.

    A supplementary charge of maybe £2-3 per month, purely for mobile Spotify might have worked better. This would have still required adverts.

    The other thing about mobile Spotify is that the app is going to have to run in on your iPhone all the time, chewing up battery while it downloads data. There are still benefits to downloading music, legally or otherwise, onto your iPhone, such as not requiring a data connection and being able to use other apps (e.g. games) while listening to music.

    That's why, in my opinion, the Spotify app is still not a like-for-like replacement for the standard iPod feature of an iPhone. And I think Apple know that already, which is why they approved it (as they did

  • Comment number 3.

    Spotify has taken what is the most logical course in making music freely available by effectively running an on-line "radio station" supported by some advertising.

    Radio as a form of music content delivery has worked well since the early 20th century, and this is really a new take on the idea, with the added ability to be able to remove advertising by paying subscription.

    I do wonder, however, how well the advertising model is really working, and therefore how much hope is being pinned on the subscription model.

    I listen to Spotify a lot as a free user - mostly because as a medium it may be of interest to some of my clients. However, I hear very few adverts, and many of those are for Spotify itself. My impression is that they are not selling advertising space effectively at the moment.

    That maybe, as I have found, that for independent producers, getting the relevant information is very difficult. It may also be that advertisers think that with Spotify emphasising the subscription model, the free, advert supported model is being treated as an "also ran," and who would want to advertise on that!

    Certainly, it is noticeable that the mobile move is subscription only, so I assume that either they are not interested in the advertising version, or the advertising version is not working and they are desperate for subscriptions - it would be interesting to find out which.

    In the long run, I suspect services like Spotify will be available as a bundle with your broadband, as I think broadband will move more and more to the Sky TV business model (Giving you free rain of anything you like is of no interest to the mass corporations - they want to tie you into THEIR version of the internet, and that is how Murdoch will solve his problems.)

    This bundling makes sense as it will not be seen as "yet another thing to pay for."

    But that will not be good for the rest of us, or even the music industry. For while that means that people can listen to music "legally," it possibly splits the market into HAVES and HAVE NOTS.

    Back in the 50s, 60s and even 70s, the record companies were able to offer two very simple offerings - the single and the album. Singles, especially through outlets like Woolies, were very cheap and fun to own. People (normally kids) who wanted to follow their band, could easily afford singles and buy very cheap record decks to play them on (even cheaper with cassettes). Saving up pocket money to buy a single was a real kick - it wasn't very hard to do and going down to the local record shop on the Saturday to buy the record with your mates was a real sense of freedom. You couldn't afford albums, but that didn't seem to matter much.

    However, with subscription models, especially if they get wrapped up in company controlled internet connections, the cheap option wont be there - it will be so linked into monthly fees for services you only use 1% of and sold as "the best deal" that if you cant afford the package you will be left out in the cold completely.

    What we need now is a competitor to Spotify that is completely advert lead - lots of ads, really creative ones, with a primary emphasis of selling records, concert tickets, memorabilia and so on - as much that is relevant to the music market as possible.

    Fans will like it because the ads will be part of the fun, record companies will like it because it is all about their products, and it will be open to anyone with a connection.

    Better still, put it on air, and then all you need is a remarkable little piece of kit called a tranny radio....


  • Comment number 4.

    Whilst Spotify works well on a computer, I feel that 3G coverage can be a little too tempramental for constant music streaming. Imagine that you are on the train and it goes through a tunnel. Imediately your music cuts out. If you can get the music for free (illegaly) then why bother with Spotify?

    Also at a tenner a month it is far too expensive.

    If Rupert Murdoch starts charging for online content he'll just lose online readers. News is easy to get for free online (here for instance). Instead he should be putting the basics online and pushing for extras (bingo etc) or even putting promotional codes in the paper so to get the best out of the site you have to pay for the paper.

  • Comment number 5.

    The argument about 'patchy 3G coverage" is a bit moot really seen as you can download the music to the handset and play in offline mode.

    For me this was a no brainer. £10 for all that music? Count me in.

  • Comment number 6.

    £120 a year? That's at least 12 CDs going on the prices of most new releases, more if you buy stuff in the sales. Nearly 150 digital downloads depending where you shop. Everyone I know who has used Spotify finds it interesting as an initial gimmick, but soon ignores it. The thing is, friends share music between friends by talking about it when they socialise, they don't sit in isolation trawling the web and emailing playlists. Or at least nobody I know.

    They share music by burning CDs or sharing CDs/LPs/MP3s which they then stick on a much more reliable MP3 player ... can you imagine going on a train or going out for a run trying to use mobile Spotify? The connection will be awful. Yes, that will improve over the years, but we're a LONG way off from having a connection that can equal that of an iPod.

    Spotify will have a market, but it's not going to kickstart a revolution in its current form. Spotify is overrated, yet seems to be getting unwarranted attention and plaudits from journalists like yourself who seem to misunderstand how people consume music. Still, you get spun by the PR and end up writing an article trumping up its importance, when it's essentially an advert.

  • Comment number 7.

    All good, but on the iPhone it will be too limited by the fact that it cannot run as a background app - so (unless Spotify have managed to persuade Apple otherwise) the user will not be able to do anything else (surf the web, sat-nav, take photos, etc etc) while listening via spotify, as we can currently do with the iPod app.

  • Comment number 8.

    All of you talking about flaky connections and terrible for using on 3G:

    Spotify enables you to download playlists when connected to wifi. So no trouble when traveling. And I've just tested 3G, it works great. Starts almost immediately.

    And £120/yr? That's nothing for the amount of music you get.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm not surprised at the price, which is reasonable at first glance. However, competing with the iPhone's built in capacity for music I don't think it's going to grab most people (and considering the iPhone's fairly dopey battery life anyway, half the iPhone owners I know wouldn't risk yet another app that eats it up anyway).

    The problem with the subscription model is Spotify are asking you to pay for them to take a mild annoyance away, not to add anything. As someone who listens to commercial radio, the odd ad is never going to bother me, so why pay? If, however, paying added value, I might be tempted. Merchandise, gig tickets, subscribers competitions, limited edition tracks... Hell, I know plenty of people willing to pay for blogs just to get a wider choice of 100x100px icons to go by their posts; if Spotify offered highly customisible user pages it could tempt users into subscribing. It's value added that makes people pay, not annoyance taen away!

  • Comment number 10.

    @nkingston - you are paying to have all that music available to you on your mobile which you wouldn't get if you didn't pay as the app is only usable by subscribers

    Personally the price and the inability to use the app in the background will prevent me from subscribing

  • Comment number 11.

    People saying £120 a year is cheap - remember you are renting music - not buying it.

    As soon as you cancel your subscription, you can't get what to any of that music any more.

    CDs may not last for ever, but I'll keep buying one or two a month, and they'll last nearly as long as I will, if I look after them.

  • Comment number 12.

    "5. At 12:17pm on 07 Sep 2009, munkimatt wrote:

    The argument about 'patchy 3G coverage" is a bit moot really seen as you can download the music to the handset and play in offline mode.

    For me this was a no brainer. £10 for all that music? Count me in."


    And you don't see the problem with the fact that you are being charged for something that is free on another platform, i.e. PC?

    I think what is a no-brainer is the old adage that there is one born every minute.

    If spotify is free on PC it should be free on all platforms.

  • Comment number 13.

    The_Hess wrote:

    If Rupert Murdoch starts charging for online content he'll just lose online readers. News is easy to get for free online (here for instance).


    It really depends on the content and how exclusive it is - and that depends on the publication.

    Newpapers like the Times are going to have a serious problem. Exclusivity in serious reporting is rare, but before blogging became so high profile The Times had an edge by having columnists and therefore opinion.

    But now the BBC and others are pushing opinion through blogs, added to the fact that the Times, the BBC and other online news organisations essentially report the same news type, the Time is in trouble.

    The Sun and the News of the World are different, however. Their exclusive content is often in areas where online organisations (particularly the BBC) have little or no interest. So they are in a much better position to keep their market leading position.

    I think newspapers are missing one vital part of their usefulness, and that is the reading experience.

    Sticking to the Red Tops (as the market leaders), I have watched people reading news off their phones and others reading from newspapers on trains. Without doubt, the newspaper readers are getting the better "experience." They can browse through the newspaper very easily, there is no menu to bother with, and an article is spread out in a way that is easy to read both in detail or just by scanning across it.

    A 3 inch square screen does not allow that.

    So, it maybe that newpapers like the times will become online only, while the print market it held by the red tops - or something similar. But I don't think it will be simple choice for all newspapers.

  • Comment number 14.

    @JonnyJoe (6) ... Personally, I don't think Spotify is over-rated, precisely because I'm *not* a massive consumer of music, whether legally or illegally. Spotify gives me exactly what I need: simply, a radio station I control. No irritating DJ who loves the sound of his own voice more than the music. No tuning in to find it's a sports phone-in, or nothing but 'massive' dance tracks for the next two hours.

    Spotify is something I can set running in the background while I'm working at home, doing DIY, whatever. If I'm in a room where I can't hear the computer I set up an FM audio-sender and tune in my radio to the channel. The occasional pop and crackle only adds to the experience!

    Not everybody is a rampant downloader and not everybody has, or wants to have, a massive CD collection. Some of us just like to listen to a little good music from time to time, or maybe spend a few idle minutes sampling stuff we've not heard before (I've never heard More Abba Gold before. Can you believe that? But I have it playing right now, thanks Spotify).

    The irony is, the way Spotify works - for me, at least - is a major disincentive against me paying them a subscription. I said at the outset I would rather they increase the frequency of adverts than decide to withdraw the free-to-end-user version of the service and I'm glad they seem to have done exactly that over the last month or so.

  • Comment number 15.

    Personally I like the radio function on spotify as much as the playlists, as I have found a number of bands that I would otherwise never even know existed. However, it would be better for both the user and the companies being advertised if the adverts were directed by music genre. I don't think many people who listen to Killswitch Engage would be interested in downloading Mika's new single!

  • Comment number 16.


    Good idea in theory, however could you imagine the costs that they'd make of working out who gets what advert etc? They'd ramp up the subscription just to cover it.
    Incidentally Killswitch are touring soon, get a ticket while you can.

  • Comment number 17.

    Already got my Killswitch ticket!

    And Dream Theater, and Machine Head, and Lamb of God, and Deep Purple, and Wishbone Ash, and Trivium! Living the dream!

    And it wouldn't be that expensive to run. All that would need to happen is for the company submitting the advert to tick a bunch of fields relating to the genre/music era eg 80's pop, 70's hard rock etc. Then the advert broadcast to each user is based on the genres listened to in the last few songs. Most websites already offer adverts based on content.

  • Comment number 18.

    The_Hess wrote:

    However, it would be better for both the user and the companies being advertised if the adverts were directed by music genre. I don't think many people who listen to Killswitch Engage would be interested in downloading Mika's new single!


    Strangely, you would be amazed how much crossover there is (And not just because Goldie has gone classical!)

    The best example was at a metal concert at Donnington Park years ago. It was all the heaviest of the metal boys and someone had booked Slade, which seemed strange, and many of the music journalists questioned the choice.

    However, on the day, it poured with rain and half the PA went down. None of the bands wanted to go on stage and the crowd were getting wet and angry. So Noddy volunteered the band and on went Slade.

    You know, it seemed like every single person in that leather clad, heavy metal crowd knew the words to ALL the songs.

    The crowd loved it, Slade saved the day and we all had a very quick reappraisal about not assuming you know what people like! :)

  • Comment number 19.

    I suppose the best way of summing this up from my point of view - like pretty much everything IT related is - It depends...

    I don't really listen to music unless I'm in the car. I have the free Spotify installed both at home and at work, but have used it maybe twice since i installed it, preferring CD's or the radio. So £10 per month for someone like me is not even comprehendable.

    Then for a friend of mine, who listens to music when he gets up, on the way to work, while at work, and on the way home. £10 per month is a snip!!

    Personally, I'm not so sure it will take off - I can't envisage many people paying £120 pa for the service myself!

  • Comment number 20.

    Log are playing again! Missed that one.

    True I didn't think that one through very well there, I try to stay away from alot of the music streaming sites, and have only used spotify a couple of times in my life actually. I've always preferred having a copy of anything really, and don't see the attraction of radio websites which is basically what it is. I do like the idea though thats been put through on here with prizes and unique gifts for subscription only sites.

  • Comment number 21.

    I wont be using it but I hope this works far better than the desktop Spotify application which I cannot get to work on my desktop computer at all.

  • Comment number 22.

    A bit expensive for me considering I can't keep the music or play it on a different device. There's no way I spent £120 a year on music, more like £50 maximum. I'll stick with buying CDs.

  • Comment number 23.

    I like Spotify. A tenner a month seems pretty reasonable.

    After just a couple of months I've discovered all kinds of different genres of music. If I'd bought them all I'd have spent several hundred quid by now. So for me Spotify premium makes perfect sense. The iphone app is a nice bonus.

    The argument that you're just 'renting' music rather misses the point. It demonstrates a 20th century mindset, which will disappear over the coming decades.
    The Spotify model potentially means everyone has access to all music forever. It's a resource which is just *there*, like radio or TV. The price is paying an annual licence fee (BBC model), or listening to ads (independent model).

  • Comment number 24.

    @ gnozu16, the renting comment does not miss the point, it is the point. Renting means not simply not owning, but also having to pay for all of the time.

    You appear to be in your teens or early twenties with an enormous amount of free time, to have consumed hundreds of pounds worth of music in just 2 months. For you, right now, the model makes sense. However, do not assume that this will always be the case. Will this model still make sense when you are working all hours, running around after toddlers, or, heaven forbid, find interests other than music? When that time comes, you will either stop paying, and have nothing to show for the hundreds of pounds you have spent on music and no means to continue enjoy your particular favourites, or continue paying for a service you barely use.

    You dismiss "20th century" thinking, but in coming decades, what will have actually have disappeared is the culture of mindless consumption that briefly reigned in the late 90s until 2008.

  • Comment number 25.


    Indeed, spotify is NOT about renting. The Spotify model is an old one, based on radio, and that is very much a 20th century idea!

    Rather than renting, it is performance - that is why the collection society for composers in the UK is called the "Performing Rights Society."

    The nearest you get to renting is licensing, and that is what happens when you buy a CD or even an old vinyl - you might own the bit of plastic, but you don't own the music. The licence allows you to play the music for your own private purposes and you are not allowed to play it in public which would then be a "performance" of the work. Radio stations and Spotify pay a licence that allows them to perform the work.

    PorterRockwell wrote:

    "You dismiss "20th century" thinking, but in coming decades, what will have actually have disappeared is the culture of mindless consumption that briefly reigned in the late 90s until 2008."

    I think Mindless Consumption is on the increase. There is very little we touch in modern society that is not about spending on things that are not necessities. And now it has become so intrenched into our society that access to luxury items is seen as some sort of right.

    This is shown very clearly with the argument about music royalties. Many people, especially young, but not exclusively, object to the record companies and composers argument about royalties as they see that listening to someone elses music is some sort of human right. I have come across that argument so often that I am sick to death of it.

    But the fact that people believe that is not a reaction to the music industry's position, but rather it is indicative of the "I want I will Have" society that is becoming stronger in the world.

    I see it in advertising. It used to be that advertisers felt that they needed to generate that emotion before feeding it with product - now they just feed it. The I Want emotion is already there.

  • Comment number 26.

    A lot of comment on here on how they think it's too expensive or they don't spend that much on CD's. You are all having an Epic Fail on this one. The beauty of this system is not how cheap.

    Its so simplistic and seamless. You will never have to carry another device for music, never have to shell out for that 32gig memory card, never have to spend endless hours cleaning up and cataloguing illegally downloaded files. It's all there whenever you want it.

    You even feel morally good knowing you are at least paying your way - you always wanted too but loathed to get involved with the alternatives. I have 2000 plus tracks obtained from various places. I now have over 4 million tracks at my finger tips. All racked up nicely with album info discographies.

    This was the app phone end users have been waiting for as an alternative to iTunes. Even Apple have conceded some territory and allowed the software on their precious iPhone platform. Apple have been smart enough to realise this is quite a fundamental moment in DRM/Music/Legality and to use their usual market muscle would have pitted them head to head with probably the fastest growing technical must have.

    Leave with this thought, if Spotify was rubbish I could cancel my rolling contract and get away with just being ten quid lighter. Not much risk there. I suggest you try it and then comment on how expensive it is versus how good it is.

  • Comment number 27.

    It's worth £10 to try it out for a month if you have an Iphone! Just like anything else, if you don't like it then complain or cancel the subscription.


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