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  • 12.09.15

Can Spotify Lure Back Taylor Swift And Adele?

As competition heats up and artists get restless, Spotify is willing to rethink a key part of its model.

Can Spotify Lure Back Taylor Swift And Adele?
[Photo: Flickr user eefeewahfah]

Taylor Swift’s most notable public breakup could soon be on the mend. No, not her split with One Direction’s Harry Styles. We’re talking about her fraught relationship with Spotify.

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Spotify is reportedly reconsidering the very policy that caused Swift to pull her entire catalog from the service last year, according to the Wall Street Journal. The company may soon allow artists to keep their music off of Spotify’s unpaid tier, while making it available to the 20 million people who pay $10 per month for the service’s premium version. That would be a huge reversal for Spotify, but then again, a lot has changed in the digital music space in the year since Swift pulled her catalog.

The problem with Spotify, in Swift’s eyes, is that its free tier devalues music and fails to fairly compensate artists. This sentiment has been echoed by a handful of other prominent artists, some of whom are wary of the economics of the streaming model that seems to be replacing the shrinking markets for physical albums and downloads.

Swift’s highly publicized slap in the streaming giant’s face failed to make a dent in Spotify’s user numbers, which continue to grow. But since then, some new challenges to Spotify’s dominance in the music streaming space have cropped up. Most notably, Apple launched Apple Music in June, giving listeners a well-polished and smartly curated alternative to Spotify that comes pre-installed on every modern iOS device. Within months, Apple managed to amass 10 million users. Unlike Spotify, Apple Music does not have a free tier. It also has Taylor Swift’s newest album.

More recently, something notable happened outside the streaming world: In its first week, Adele’s 25 sold a record-breaking 3.38 million copies, something those inside the long-beleaguered U.S. record industry assumed was no longer possible. Notably, the album, which recently sold its five millionth copy, was not available for streaming on services like Spotify. Adele’s massive success may be a rarity in the music industry today, but the numbers help highlight bigger questions about whether the streaming model is ready to replace the buy-and-own model of music consumption.

Given the recent shifts in the landscape, it’s no wonder that Spotify is rethinking the mechanics of its freemium model. And while Swift hasn’t officially commented on her reported intention to return to Spotify, artists like her and Adele may be more easily wooed by having the option to keep new albums off of Spotify’s free, ad-supported tier (thus giving listeners more of an incentive to either pay for a Spotify subscription or buy the album outright–or, some might argue, pirate it).

The move would also placate record labels, who have concerns about the impact that free, all-you-can-stream music might have on album sales. The labels tend to get hefty sums of revenue from the streaming services (far more than artists typically see), but with the model still shaking out, the music industry, already ravaged once by the Internet, is understandably wary of putting all of its eggs in any particular basket.

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To date, there are no officially announced plans to offer this type of premium-only music on Spotify. Despite rumors that Coldplay’s latest album might be a candidate, Spotify announced that the album will be available to both free and paid users this Friday. In a statement, the company said it remains “100 percent committed to our model.” Still, if the Journal‘s sources are to be believed, the company is considering the premium-only model for future releases.

The new premium-only music will reportedly be offered on an experimental (and presumably rigorously tested) basis. This is a technology company, after all.

About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things.

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