Digital Music News ran a short item today about Spotify -- a fast-growing free/subscription streaming service that's available overseas but not yet in the US. The article is about a demo of an upcoming app for Google's Android cellphone platform:
An Android mobile app was splashed at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco, a work-in-progress that quickly excited music fans and bloggers alike. As one would expect, the app demo featured on-demand access to a catalog of millions, using available WiFi. But users will also be able to access tracks while disconnected, a feature that eliminates a huge connectivity hurdle.
There's also a of a similar Spotify app for iPhone, which, to the best of our knowledge, has yet to be approved by Apple. If anything could compete with iTunes, it's Spotify, so it will be interesting to see if an iPhone app does indeed roll out with a Spotify US launch (rumored to happen later this year).
Although it's not officially available in the US, Spotify is starting to win converts among American music reporters and pundits. Wired's Eliot Van Buskirk says the service is --like a magical version of iTunes in which you‘ve already bought every song in the world," and industry observer Bob Lefsetz has been moved to praise Spotify IN ALL CAPS on more than one occasion.
There are probably several reasons for Spotify's rapid adoption in countries like the UK, where it's been available for a year or so. The graphic interface is straightforward (and very iTunes-like), and, since it employs a robust desktop client, there is practically zero lag (yes, we've tested this.) Spotify also uses the superior Ogg Vorbis format for its streams, which means it actually sounds good. Perhaps most attractive is the fact that the service is free -- as long as you don’t mind hearing a solitary audio ad every half-hour or so (there's also a paid version without the ads). This means that artists and sound copyright owners are compensated, which we think is top priority for any new digital music doohickey.
Keep in mind that Spotify is on-demand listening, not "predictive radio" like Pandora (which is also gaining popularity, largely due to mobile applications).
Music-tech analyst Andrew Dubber gives a useful overview of Spotify, which you can read here. Among his favorite features:
. . .every artist, every album and every track has a unique URL that can be sent via email, Twitter, IM, Facebook or any other kind of messaging system - and if the recipient also has Spotify installed, that music will play in exactly the same way it did for the person sending it.
Recently, Andrew made a recommendation via his Twitter feed; if you're a Spotify user, you could click the link and the album he was talking about immediately pops up and starts playing on your end. With the ubiquity of social media, it‘s easy to imagine this becoming a powerful, cost-effective and legal way to share music.
Some have complained that Spotify, while rock-solid performance-wise, is lacking some essential features. On the other hand, the Spotify folks have opened their service to outside development, which likely means enhancements are forthcoming. Essentially, approved third-party devices and services would be able to use Spotify’s engine and catalog, which could be particularly fruitful in the mobile space.
There are also concerns that subscription and ad-based models don't pay artists and labels as much per play as downloads of physical sales. But that could change, especially if more people get hooked on listening this way. It could also help curb piracy -- why take the chance on viruses and music in crappy bitrates, when you can get better quality tunes for "free" (or at a nominal cost)?
The idea of being able to listen to practically everything you'd ever want to whenever you want to isn't new. But American consumers haven't fully embraced such services, even with Rhapsody, Napster, etc. offering some version of subscription-based access. Will Spotify be the model that makes "the cloud" click? Only time will tell. . .