I don’t know if you’ve heard the news, but Spotify’s free service is due to change at the end of this month. Not only are they limiting user’s monthly allowance to 10 hours but they are restricting the amount of times you can play a track to five times. After playing a song five times, you will not be able to play that again unless you pay.
This is quite a radical change, and one that has caused me to think hard about my use of their service. Like many I imagine, I have used it to construct playlists and then listen to them repeatedly. For example, I have a set of albums I really enjoy, soundtracks to films I like and a selection of fifties and sixties rock ‘n’ roll. I use Spotify at work to pick a playlist that I’m in the mood for that day and listen to it with one ear, with office chat being heard by the other. I essentially treat it as a radio station that I control the content of, some of which are tracks I’ve already bought, others I’ve not. I would say I use it for at least ten hours in a week.
This new announcement essentially ends this kind of usage for free. They have essentially rebranded the free service to be used only for discovering new music. It is this “heavy use” as a radio channel that they wish to ban, as I imagine it is becoming unprofitable. However, I don’t think that this is the best way to go about it. I can understand that something needs to be done, but this feels unfair. Not for the users, as many are saying it is, but to the advertisers. The companies who’ve paid for exposure to users have now been devalued by limiting the amount of time users can spend listening. A problem I’ve always had with Spotify is that it seems to me that half of the adverts are for themselves. I would estimate that you have one thirty second advert for Spotify and one for another company every three tracks, which if we assume on average lasts a total of ten minutes, then for every user there will be a maximum of a hour of advertising, half of which will be for Spotify. That is an incredibly low level of exposure and not worth the effort of hiring famous names (such as David Mitchell for Go Compare) for your Spotify slots.
It has made me think about my music buying habits though. I haven’t spent much on music since getting Spotify; I would imagine not more than three CDs in a year. Upon realising that, I was a bit shocked. Is it ok for me to spend so little supporting the artists I enjoy so much? There are specific albums that I listen to often but haven’t purchased because I can listen to them on Spotify. Can I justify doing this? There are film soundtracks I listen to because I don’t want to watch the whole film but just have a brief reminder, are those worth purchasing, particularly if I’ve bought the DVD?
There are several choices open to me. I can keep not spending and switch to another free service such as we7.com. I have used them before in the past as they have some albums that are not on Spotify that I wanted to listen to. I didn’t mind the fact that there was a five second advert before every track, it was more the fact that it wasn’t distinct from a web browser and also had long load times. Another option is paying five pounds a month for Unlimited. Its good value, but what would I be paying for? After what feels like a sudden and treacherous move by Spotify, I don’t particularly want them to give them my money, especially as I now fear they could change their service at a moments notice because their business model wasn’t well thought out. I also want to make sure my money only goes to the artists I support and not just a selection of record labels.
I want something that I can listen to on my computer at work, and this means no data on the machine, but streaming the music. I think the most likely option, and one that I wish more people would follow as opposed to piracy, is that I will surrender my wide choice for the free price. I intend to use iPlayer and other streaming services to listen to radio channels at work and will buy CDs that I particularly like. That way I don’t have a choice over what I listen to but will be happier listening to it for free as opposed to paying Spotify for the privilege. I may still use Spotify for its new intended purpose as a try before you buy service but I will not pay to essentially rent music. I don’t want to pay for something that after several months of use I come away left with nothing.
At the end of the day, we “heavy users” must be grateful for what we had. Spotify that was has been a great tool for fighting piracy, but it has never been perfect. I have heard people saying that before Spotify they would torrent an album and if they really liked it would resort to buying it, but now Spotify it and if they really love it, pirate it. They are a company when all is said and done and this seemed too good to be true. As its popularity grew, it turned out it was. You will be missed Spotify Free, farewell.