Saturday, 16 April 2011

An Open Letter to Spotify

Dear Spotify

I have been a frequent Spotify user since 2009; I was one of the lucky few who were able to sign up for a free account before the doors were closed. Spotify was one of the major factors in my decision to stop pirating music, because I could listen to the “good” tracks on albums legally without having to buy the full album. This is a huge bonus, because quite frankly the quality of a lot of today’s albums’ “filler” tracks is questionable. I use the service almost daily, and I have used it to discover some amazing music, some of which has gone on to become some of my favourite artists and bands. For this reason I was greatly saddened and annoyed at your recent announcement that you will be implementing several limitations on the free service.

From the Spotify website:

  • New Spotify users will be able to enjoy our unrivalled free service as it is today for the first 6 months.
  • As of May 1st, any user who signed up to the free service on or before November 1st 2010 will be able to play each track for free up to a total of 5 times. Users who signed up after the beginning of November will see these changes applied 6 months after the time they set up their Spotify account.
  • Additionally, total listening time for free users will be limited to 10 hours per month after the first 6 months. That’s equivalent to around 200 tracks or 20 albums.

In the announcement you state that these limitations are necessary for the free service to survive, but the way I see it these limits are simply a means of harassing more people into joining your paid service. The Spotify advertisements aren’t so bad, I can put up with advertising. After all, advertisements are already on everything from our newspapers to our mobile phones.

I can even understand the ten hour per month limit; ten hours of music is plenty for some people. I personally would find that limiting, as I listen to three or four hours of music a day and I’d say that about 30% of that is spent on Spotify. The existing limit on the “open” account is 20 hours a week, so why has there been such a drastic cut? Why not 10 hours a week?

The biggest limitation I see is the new limit on the number of times each song can be heard. Five times might be enough time to decide if you like a song or not, and as your announcement states, 7 out of 10 songs that customers listen to won’t reach the limit, even after a year. I see a major problem with this new limit though; playlists. I have built up several playlists on Spotify that I listen to depending on my mood, and these get a reasonable amount of play time. The new five listen limit will render these playlists unplayable in less than a month. I realise that it is possible to buy individual tracks from 7Digial, Amazon or iTunes, but what are we supposed to do when the label or artist insists on a track being sold solely as part of an album?

I have been a big fan of Spotify, even when the 20 hour limit was introduced. I use it to share music with my friends on Facebook, and I’m often introduced to new music by friends through the social functions within Spotify. It has become a social tool, just like Facebook and Youtube, but the new limits will greatly reduce the effectiveness of the social side of the program.

The irony of the situation is that I was considering switching to the Spotify Unlimited plan, and I had been for a while. I thought it was a worthwhile service, and I would probably have used it a lot. Now that these changes have been implemented however, I feel that I am being forced to buy into the plan simply to continue to enjoy the service that I have received for free for almost two years. This move will be seen by many customers as a money-making scheme, however “vital” you claim it is. The fact that new customers don’t get the change for at least 6 months is a slap in the face to every veteran Spotify customer.

I accept that the service is free, and many would argue that I am expecting a lot from a free service, but Spotify has become the norm for many people, and it has certainly helped to curb piracy. Do you really want to risk losing customers to piracy? I thought the entertainment industries were doing everything they could to lower illegal downloading; surely a move like this will only serve to increase piracy.

I’ll keep my account until these limitations begin to affect me, but when they do begin to kick in I shan’t be upgrading to an unlimited account; I’ll be straight over to The Pirate Bay and Demonoid to get my fill from there. I am a good music fan; I buy two or three albums a month (that’s more than your average man in the street). I support independent artists by going to concerts and buying their EPs and albums and I shop at independent record shops whenever I can. I will not however support the major labels and their subsidiaries in their money-grabbing schemes, not when the artists continue to be ripped off with their pitiful royalty rates. Spotify was an incredible idea, and I have enjoyed using the service, but I won’t be bullied into handing over my cash. Not now, not ever.

Yours Faithfully
Matt Harrison
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21 comments:

  1. I second this.
    If you do too, please join the facebook group here:

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Spotify-is-Ruined/167285049991587?ref=ts

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  2. I too, agree with Matt.

    He raises several essential points that relate to many users of your service, including myself, who you are bound to lose when your plan comes into action!

    I hope you see your grave mistakes!

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  3. I doubt this is a way to get more people to sign up for premium or unlimited. Rather, it reeks of unhealthy record label and lawyer involvement.

    Can we say: "a condition imposed on Spotify for them to be allowed to be released stateside"?

    I doubt Spotify WANTS these changes to happen, since I'm sure they fully knows that the free accounts made their corporation and that this will make the free accounts pointless in the long run. But, they obviously want a share of the lucrative American market, so they sell out.

    Either way, I doubt we'll see Spotify two years from now, I'm sure it will be a footnote in the Internet history. Less satisfied advertisement supported accounts means less platinum and unlimited accounts. So, way to shoot yourselved in the foot, Spotify.

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  4. Your attitude here saddens me, Matt. Especially on an otherwise interesting blog. Do you really think your a good music fan when you say "I’ll be straight over to The Pirate Bay and Demonoid to get my fill from there"?

    Perhaps if you ever become a successful musician yourself you will look back at this post with some regret.

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  5. To the anonymous poster above, I fully intend on releasing my album (which is nearing completion) as a donation model, where you can download it for free should you want to.

    I put a lot of money into the music business, I don't see anything wrong with getting something for free once in a while, legally or otherwise. If the industry shafts the listener like this when why shouldn't the public get something back?

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  6. I'll come back and check out your album, sounds like the kind of thing I'd like.

    You talk of Spotify "losing customers to piracy" - well, you're not a customer: a customer is someone who pays for a product or service. In Spotify's case, you cost them money in royalty fees whenever you listened to a song. But in two whole years you never bothered to subscribe. The amount Spotify received from advertisers couldn't cover the costs they had to pay to the labels (both major and indie) and collection agencies.

    Personally, I do think there is something wrong in stealing an artist's work. Even "once in a while." You have the luxury of being able to give away your album for free since I assume it's not your main source of income.

    Good luck anyway. I hope you consider £5/month for 13 million songs on Spotify - I think that's a bargain.

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  7. exactly. not also mentioning im a student who can spare the £4.99 or £9.99 a month on feeding myself. or giving to charity even so other people can eat. ya know, important things.

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  8. Have to say I'm pretty surprised to read this sort of thing, especially from a music student.

    Matt, you of all people must realise that the music business is just that... a business. It supports thousands of people - not just the writers and musicians, but also the producers, marketing people, pluggers, stylists, graphic designers, web designers, video directors, managers, agents, distributors, sales staff, concert promoters... the list goes on and on.

    As has been said, you're obviously in a privileged position to be able to release your album for free. A position that not many musicians (or support staff) find themselves in.

    So, for other readers of this post - think about your own jobs. If you work in a supermarket, would you give the food away for free? If you've just made / designed something, can I have that for free? Of course not - that's not the world we live in.

    The existing Spotify business model wasn't working - as the company couldn't afford to pass on a reasonable level of royalties back (via the record companies) to the people who deserve them. So, it has to try to encourage it's users on to the paid for service.

    Matt, going by what you've told us, the £5 a month service will work out at under 5p an hour - giving you all the music you want. Compare that with the use / entertainment you get from pretty much anything else. I reckon you're still getting a bargain.

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  9. Matt, I'm almost totally agree with you, and I feel betrayed as a veteran customer, I think all free account holders should get a half price deal on the current price plan, then loads of us will stay. We deserved it as we constantly promote Spotify to others.

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  10. I recently acquired spotify, and frankly, I love the free service, as a performing musician and a student on a music performance degree course it's the most useful tool for learning songs for work and study purposes, alongside discovering back catalogues of artists I want to check out. These change will, for me, render spotify pointless, as in learning a track it can easily get up to ten plays, dependant on complexity of the track. This change is limiting the finacial benefit to the artists on spotify, as limiting the number of track plays effectively equates to limiting the royalties recieved by the artists, which one can only presume will lead to less artists signing up to have their work on spotify in the first place. People can moan about downloading all they want, but be it via record sales, or spotify plays these artists still only recieve a pittance of a wage in record sales if they've got a major record deal. I vote you financially support the bands you love by seeing them live, and worry less about how you stream their music.

    Great post Matt :)

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  11. There are so many ramifications to this decision by Spotify, and I personally think it is partly a deliberate decision to lose the free customers in order to free up resources for the paying ones. And I'm pretty sure the record companies and their lawyers are pretty involved in the whole thing.

    I don't use Spotify to hunt out new music. I create playlists of the music I love. But as I'll no longer be able to play tracks more than five times in total, that is that system ruined for me. Looks like I'll be looking back into iTunes instead.

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  12. You summed everything that is now wrong with spotify thank-you

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  13. I agree. I have also set up a new account just to get the new service free for a few more months, once this runs out i will either make another new account or just keep downloading illegally.

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  14. Well said Matt,
    We are described as "free" customers when we are actually "Heavily restricted" cattle

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  15. Agreed.
    Spotify, you're ruined.

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  16. Spotify you've just gone pure greedy

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  17. I have been in since the start and upgraded a few months ago. For £5.00 whats that a coffee and muffin at Waterloo, a Big Mac Meal. Its really not much to ask is it for the service. Its like the biggest music library in the world.

    I can even use a UK VPN when I am on holiday outside the UK to listen.

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  18. I totally agree with the original article, I`m a Spotify Open user but 5 times... ever?! I can`t live with that. The 10 hours I can, as I only used a couple of hours per month, but the playlists are useless.
    I`d recommend www.we7.com to anyone, I use that now and its brilliant!
    An alternative to these changes: www.we7.com !!!!!!

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