By Brian Klose
Music streaming sites, like Spotify and Apple Music, are the newest and biggest trend in music distribution. Both services offer unlimited music streaming to their paid subscribers at a modest price of $10 a month. What makes Spotify especially unique, however, is its free, ad-supported streaming, the tier with the service’s largest user base. Spofity’s freemium business model has kept the site thriving since its debut in 2008.
Spotify recently made some changes to user access of the ad-supported tier. These changes are a step in the right direction for Spotify as music streaming moves past its honeymoon phase and into its place as the go-to resource for music.
For much of its lifespan, Spotify attracted most of its users through its free music service, then encouraged those users to upgrade to the premium version through ads. This business model made Spotify easily the most accessible music streaming service. While the premium version eliminated ads and restricted skipping, all of the music in Spotify’s library was available on both plans.
Since getting my first iPod in seventh grade, I’ve believed that music listeners owe it to musicians and artists to buy their work. Not for anti-pirating reasons, but as a sign of a fan’s appreciation for the music. As long as artists release their work on monetized platforms and are compensated, I find no problem with ad-supported free listening streaming sites. The system isn’t perfect, with claims of under-compensation and unfair treatment of lesser-known musician’s work, but it ultimately spreads the reach of music to more people than what was previously available.
But the end of free listening might be around the corner. Earlier this month, Spotify announced that certain albums under the Universal Music record label would be unavailable to free listeners for two weeks after their release dates, giving premium subscribers exclusive access for a limited time.
This seemingly minor inconvenience for the free listeners has implications for an even greater discord between the two plans, perhaps even hinting at an elimination of the free service altogether. Universal Music owns the rights to a majority of the most-listened-to artists today, including Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Florence + the Machine, and Drake. Restricting any new releases from these artists may turn users away from Spotify, but could also be an even more effective encouragement to upgrade to the premium plan.
Free listening sites are an unsustainable way to distribute music. The fact that Spoify is easing into an exclusively paid busniess model is a sign of an experiment running its course and cementing monthly streaming costs as the most economical way to listen to music.