Today, streaming music service from across the pond, Spotify, announced that it’s opening itself up to third-party apps, adding the work of independent developers and other companies to their recently-launched Facebook integration. The company offers about fifteen million songs for streaming and temporary storage on the computers and mobile devices of paying customers. While you can listen for free for ten hours a month, that runs out fast. Those who want more time need to pay $4.99 per month, and those that want offline access to playlists have to drop $10 per month. Since opening to users in the United States this past July, Spotify has accumulated about 2.5 million premium users, including 500,000 since mid-September alone.
Those are powerful numbers, and a sign that there is a larger shift at play here. Similar services like Rdio, MOG, and more recent offerings from Amazon and Google, are vying for ears and credit card numbers. But they all share a common thread: they’re betting on a fundamental change in how we consume music. That is, they’re reading tea leaves and trying to get out ahead of the death of the locally-stored MP3. After all, the argument goes, why worry about storing and syncing all your music manually, using your computer? And why pay $120 per year for, say, twelve new albums, when the same amount of money gets you year-long access to fifteen million songs, anywhere you are, any time?
Millions of people have bought into that argument, or have at least added the cost of Spotify to their music spending ledger along with iTunes or Amazon (Google is selling music too, but faces an uphill battle). Spotify’s new challenge is to keep new users coming while hanging onto the folks who recently signed up. I’ve been trying their free month of service for a couple of a weeks now, and I admit that it’s very compelling. While I was already a Google Music fanboy, I find everything from music selection to streaming quality is much better with Spotify. But I still plan to cancel after that free month runs out.
Business Insider‘s Matt Rosoff reports that I’m not alone: around 90% of all trial users decide against sticking with Spotify Premium. The company’s announcement today hopes to change all of that. They have partnerships with Rolling Stone, Last.fm, Songkick, and other music-focused entities to integrate those services directly into the Spotify desktop experience. That means checking out playlists of recently-featured artists from music magazines, activity from your fellow scrobblers, and venue and ticket information for upcoming local shows.
If you’re already sold on Spotify’s value at $10 per month, these services will be huge value-adds, and will likely go a long way toward helping you remain content in your decision. However, if you’re the kind of guy or gal (or geek?) who needs to have a library of thousands of music files sitting pretty in an iTunes (or Winamp?) playlist, adding more social features (very cool social features, yes) to a subscription-based music service isn’t going to win you over.
We are witnessing yet another fork in the road of entertainment consumption technology. There was once vinyl, and then 8-track, and then cassettes, and then CDs. Well there are still CDs, but digital music is catching up. The next shift will be from owning MP3s and other music files to something like the Spotify model. There are plenty of issues to be ironed out, like payments (or a lack thereof) to artists. People once found audio nirvana in organizing and listening to their own massive music libraries in the comfort of their own hard drives. Folks (read: I) still do that with great verve, but more than ever before social curation is taking music, like everything else in the networked world, by storm. Yes, music has always been social. But not in such an international, instantaneous, fifteen-million-songs-strong way.
I don’t plan to sacrifice my future music purchases at the altar of Spotify and other subscription music services any time soon. But it may be that mine is a dying breed, and the future will inevitably be streamed.
Image via Spotify.com.