By Jared Newman | Wednesday, July 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm
Subscription music service Spotify has announced that it will finally be launching in the United States — at some point. The company, which is known overseas for streaming millions of ad-supported songs on demand at no charge, provided hardly any details on its U.S. plans. Spotify simply confirmed the news and started a sign-up process for invites.
Naturally, that leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Here’s what I’d most like to know about Spotify’s U.S. launch:
Spotify’s U.S. launch plans aren’t a big surprise, even if they’re now official. The bigger question is when the service will be available, and to how many people? All we know is that the service will be invite-only at first.
To launch in the United States, Spotify needed new deals with record labels, and it’s not yet clear whether all those deals are in place. The big four record labels are key, but equally important are the indie labels that appeal to more obscure tastes.
As Macworld’s Christopher Breen notes, Spotify’s current terms of service provide six free months of ad-supported music. After that, non-paying customers get 10 free hours per month, but may not listen to a single track more than five times. Before November 10, users in Europe didn’t have these limitations. Whether U.S. users will face even more restrictions is unknown. (The premium service costs 10 pounds per month in the United Kingdom, or 5 pounds without mobile access. Presumably that will translate to $10 and $5 per month in the United States, same as competing subscription music services.)
GigaOM’s Om Malik recently reported that Facebook is preparing to launch a music service that integrates Spotify and other sources. Facebook, meanwhile, is preparing to launch lots of new services in the coming weeks and months, starting with today’s video chat announcement. It sounds like Spotify and Facebook will be intertwined, but maybe not right away.
Spotify’s entering a crowded field in the United States, one that includes MOG, Rdio, Rhapsody and Zune Pass. But none of these services have freemium offerings beyond a brief trial period. MOG has said that it plans to offer some music for free. Will other services follow suit and essentially blend Spotify into the pack?
From what I’ve observed, lack of ownership is still a huge stumbling block for subscription music services. Zune Pass is the only one that lets users keep songs after they’ve stopped subscribing, but it costs $5 more than its competitors for 10 free songs per month. As Spotify has put a greater emphasis on converting users to premium memberships, it’ll have to convince users that instant access to everything is more valuable than ownership of a limited library. So far, Spotify’s competitors haven’t sold the masses on that concept. Maybe the rumored Facebook integration will help Spotify do better.