Cloud-based streaming music service Spotify has launched in the United States, and you can sign up for their “unlimited” or “premium” monthly subscriptions or, with an invite, listen for free, with advertising. The hype machine is in full force, but how does the service stack up against other available options? We broke down the aspects of Spotify’s appeal to cut through the hype and look at what the service offers.
Spotify is streaming-only, so it does not allow users to download from its music catalog. This allows the service to license the music at a lower rate (and is part of what makes the advertising-supported service possible). As a free option, Spotify improves on Pandora by allowing listeners to choose what songs they hear, rather than having a playlist programmed for them. Its subscription service is not dissimilar to Rhapsody‘s or Rdio‘s streaming services, but both of those allow subscribers to download songs, so they can only offer free trials rather than a full-fledged advertising-supported service, and their subscription services start at a higher price point than Spotify’s $4.99/mo. “Unlimited” subscription.
Spotify is also touted for being cloud-based, which is to say that music is provided by content owners and stored by the service, not by the user. This allows users to have access to a larger catalog than they would able to store on their computers, phones, etc. However, control of the music is ultimately out of the user’s hands, so it can become unavailable. For example, even the services that have licenses with Sony do not stream Milli Vanilli songs, because that music has been deliberately removed from circulation by the company.
eMusic is the only service that has been anywhere near transparent with regards to its label dealings, announcing to users in November that music from Domino, Merge and the Beggars Group would no longer be available, as negotiations had fallen through. (This is still the case.) Every other service claims to have “all of the music” or else to some extent obscures what, exactly, is not available.
In fact, eMusic is probably the service least directly threatened, but most indirectly threatened, by Spotify, because it represents a different ideology of music listening. If cloud-based subscription streaming is the direction that the music industry is going, eMusic will quickly be endangered. But as long as people are interested in “owning” their mp3s, eMusic is in less danger from Spotify than other services that compete on a streaming-music level.