Saturday, 8 August 2009

The Audacity of Spotify

In response to a Facebook post: I think Spotify is a pretty impressive offering. I've been wondering for a while why no one had made something like this. Finally 'they' have. Think I'll be sticking to using my enormous mp3 collection most of the time still.

+ What's hot:
  • Very immediate playback (far quicker than torrenting mp3s)
  • Full quality sound (as good as 160kbit/s mp3 imho).
  • Good buffering (track will finish playing even if connection is entirely lost).
  • Plenty of information on albums and artists (like a sleek version of AMG/IMDB); intuitive and highly functional interface.
  • Good as a music discovery tool (with links to buying too).

+ What's not so good:
  • It lacks similar artist links or a recommended artists/customised radio channel functionality like Last.fm or Pandora.... Oh, hang on! I just found them! But the “Artist Radio” doesn't play similar songs, it just links to the other artists. Wait, it does that too! Wow.
  • The search function is simplistic, requiring exact spelling.
  • You never own your music, but that's all right because it never tries to pretend that u do (unlike DRM locked downloads).
  • The ads are unavoidable on the free version; it knows if u mute your sound or turn it right down, or if u move the banner ad off the screen it moves to a different part of the window, which is fair enough and besides, the adverts are mostly targeted and the audible ads are quite brief (but fairly frequent).
  • No internet connection means no music, even though it stores content locally, presumably because it can't show adverts (does the pro version work fully off-line?).
  • No track numbers shown in play list; clearly it's intended for use as an iTunes substitute, used mainly by people who want to cherry pick favourite tracks rather than listening to entire albums.
  • Some big name material is unavailable, e.g. no “In Rainbows” as yet (though the ad banners seem to suggest it's coming to spotify premium). But there is a lot of my slightly obscure artists on there and they are still in Beta so I'll give them some leeway.

+ The artist biography information is the same exactly the same blurb that can be found on any site pertaining to music, so I wonder where it originally comes from, and whether Spotify pay for it? The only place I found it attributed to a specific person was “All Music Guide”.

+ I'm curious what licensing arrangements they have, that they can allow people to listen to an unlimited amount of music for only £10/month... could it be too good to last? It must certainly be an enormous headache for them to negotiate with the different labels with content only being made available in certain countries and being able to be withdrawn at any time.

+ It would be cool for small artists if it included geographical information too: local live performances. This could form the perfect basis for a micro-royalties system (paying money to artists only for songs that were actually listened to), perhaps enabling tiny artists to bypass record labels. However, if they only get as much per play as the biggest artists, they're probably going to get very little money. I think there should be a principle of diminishing returns applied (e.g. An artist with 1 million plays only gets twice as much money as an artist with 100k plays, etc). So there's still incentive to create the best music, and one could certainly make a living from it, but at the same time many more artists could also afford to go full time, leading to an explosion in the number of creative minds at work in the 'industry'.

+ Why didn't (doesn't) Kindle take this approach too? (or at least have it as an optional package): unlimited book access for a flat monthly cost? I expect it's because publishers (or publishing laws) are *even less* reasonable than record companies.

+ If Spotify can be kept alive with it's content collection continuing to grow, and later versions incorporate fully featured music discovery, it could become the perfect music tool for desktop PCs.

+ As to reaching mobile platforms, that's a different matter. In principle they could start giving away (high speed) wireless handsets with a minimum Spotify subscription: a flat rate Kindle for music. Of course, mobile operators/makers cold take the initiative too and bundle Spotify with contracts. Given Apple's record so far, with 3rd party iStore apps, this does not yet look likely.

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