If you spent any time on the internet yesterday, chances are you heard about Spotify. It’s the latest in a growing field of streaming music services, services that take a monthly subscription fee and allow listeners to listen to just about anything out there. Spotify’s different in that it launched almost three years ago, but yesterday marked the service’s North American debut.
It was a big deal, certainly bigger than I expected, but Spotify made some smart plays that other media services didn’t, plays it was able to make thanks to an existing 10 million user base. For one, Spotify has a totally free version of the service that functions almost exactly like the paid version. It’s missing mobile access, and in Europe the free version is limited to 10 hours of streaming per month, but otherwise it’s the full package. Access to the free version was limited by invite yesterday, a trick Google recently used with Google+ to drive some hype. It worked, too. Twitter was blowing up with invite requests all day.
Spotify also launched with tiered levels of service, giving users uncomfortable with the subscription model of listening a way to see the value. The full premium service runs $10 a month, which feels like a lot if you’re used to a la carte purchases off iTunes or the free-ninety-free price of torrents. The $5 service offers the same unlimited access the premium does, but without certain goodies like mobile streaming and offline listening. It’s a great way to snag users who are on the fence.
Still, Spotify has a long road ahead. As someone who currently uses a streaming service, I’ll vouch for them. After some testing yesterday, I’ll probably be dropping my current service, MOG, in favor of the sleek, Swedish version. But streaming is a hard sell for serious music fanatics. It means betraying the hours spent finding and cataloguing rare recordings. It means saying goodbye to all the time ripping and burning and getting cables to make outdated equipment work. Well, it used to mean that.
Part of what makes Spotify so unique is that it interfaces with iTunes to bring all of your personal library in to the same system Spotify uses. Listeners now have access to Spotify’s massive library and the collection they’ve built for themselves. It’s possible to mix and match streamed and owned content together into custom playlists. In fact, Spotify looks so much like iTunes I initially thought it was just an addon service to Apple’s product, possibly something Apple would buy for iCould.
Speaking of iCloud, I would bet Apple’s in a bit of a panic with the Spotify launch. I wrote a piece a few weeks back about the sort of trouble a Facebook-Spotify co-op could make for everyone else in the media business, which we’re about to see first hand. Spotify launched with Facebook integration in its desktop application and rumor has it more services are to come. Does deep social media integration in a music service sound familiar? Yeah, Apple tried that, and it totally flopped. I’m not saying Spotify’s Facebook integration is going to become the next social media hit, but it’s already looking better than the Apple alternative.
The Spotify team is ambitious about the product’s launch. They hope to gain 50 million US users in one year. It’s easy enough to imagine that happening. With a free tier of service, even with a listening cap and ad support, Spotify will attract a lot of people who want easy access to on-demand listening. Essentially everyone else in the game should be worried. The world’s most-hyped music service looks like it was worth the wait.