Spotify: 'We haven't given up on the US'
Is Spotify giving up on its ambitions to launch in the United States, and does that mean the music-streaming service is doomed in the longer-term?
After years of pretty positive coverage, the great digital white hope of the music industry is now dodging rotten eggs from the media on a daily basis.
First, on New Year's Eve, there was the cruel mockery of the top US blog Techcrunch which laughed at Spotify's repeated failure to hit its promised target of an American launch.
Then it was the UK's Daily Telegraph claiming the agonisingly slow negotiations with record labels had led the company to "pause" the talks and think again about whether it was even worth going to the States.
Now I've been talking to some senior figures at Spotify, and they insist that this is not the case - the talks are continuing, albeit slowly, and they are still confident of reaching a deal soon. "We're close to signing on the dotted line...we've just got to get over it," was how one person put it.
The big mistake, the same person told me, was to have saddled themselves with a target of launching by the end of 2010. ""We should never have answered that question about a launch date," he lamented.
The real puzzle is just why an industry which had seemed desperate a year or two back to laud Spotify as its saviour from the scourge of illegal file-sharing now appears indifferent to its fate.
What does seem clear is that the same record labels which did deals with the "freemium" service in Europe are a lot more wary about doing the same in the United States. Just why Warner, to name one, should sign up with Spotify on one continent but be dismissive on another is a bit of a mystery.
Unless the ageing tycoons of the music business think it's about time they took charge of their own digital destinies. Having watched Apple create and then control the paid digital download business, maybe they think they can exert more control over the new model, where users pay a fee to stream unlimited music rather than own it.
One label, Sony has unveiled plans for its own streaming service in the United States, so its rivals may think it's worth waiting to see how that pans out before signing with Spotify.
But given the news we've had from the UK music industry this week of falling sales in 2010, and a disastrous Christmas for the last big retailer HMV, you'd think there would be a sense of urgency.
And what if the US deal doesn't happen - will the European market be enough to keep Spotify afloat? With around 850,000 paying customers, its owners think it may already be the world's biggest music subscription service. They are confident that they can continue to persuade a greater proportion of the millions who try the free ad-supported Spotify to upgrade to the premium service.
But fewer than a million people paying for music across the continent does not look too good when you compare it with the 10 million who pay Sky in the UK much bigger sums for premium television channels. If Spotify is to have a viable future, it either needs to get a lot more people subscribing in Europe - or to get access to the vast American market.
Off the record, the music labels grumble that they are getting miniscule revenues from their licensing deal with Spotify. But surely they ought to be asking themselves what it will say about their industry's digital future if the service which once excited both music fans and the labels is allowed to fail.