I must be one of the worst mavens about – I only ever seem to get on board with trends after they’ve already tipped, even when I have the chance to do so in advance.
For example I signed up to Twitter in early 2007 just as the initial buzz about the service was starting to grow. But with my normal talent for waiting till the bandwagon had well & truly rolled past, I didn’t really starting using it properly till the hype had built right up about a year later. And so it is that despite having had an invite to Spotify for a couple of months now, it’s only the fact that I’ve been prodded by Kieron and there was an article in The Guardian about it, that has finally got me using the service that is all set, apparently, to change the music industry.
In case you haven’t heard about Spotify yet, essentially it’s a service that allows you to stream unlimited music and it’s legal. Having done deals with nearly all the major labels the catalogue of music available is very impressive and whilst the catch in getting free access to all of this music is that you have to listen to ads every so often, in the few times I’ve used it, I’ve yet to actually hear one. A pretty impressive offering all in all and one that seems to be increasing in popularity.
So mush so in fact that it already seems to have made the jump, out of the tech world & into the real world. I was chatting about it to a mate whilst standing at a bar this lunchtime when the manager of the pub, overhearing us, mentioned the fact that he had been using and was going to plug his laptop into the speaker system so that he could use it to run the pub’s sound system. I can see why, as it’s very easy to find tracks, create playlists and, apart from the odd connection break, the quality is pretty damn good.
For all that though, I have to say that Spotify isn’t really doing it for me. Yet. For a start there’s the biggest problem with a streaming service – for most of the situations where I listen to music, streaming just doesn’t work for me. When I’m driving or traveling, I need downloads so that I can listen to them on my iPod. And when I’m at home I prefer to listen to my iPod, through my stereo, or to vinyl. And finally, at the office, I tend to listen to the office iTunes account via speakers. All situations where Spotify isn’t going to be able to help.
Then there’s the thing that I think is Spotify’s biggest weakness – its almost total lack of social functionality. Currently the service offers the ability to share playlists you’ve created and to create collaborative playlists where multiple users can add tracks. But how do you share the lists? You have to email, or IM, someone the URL – hardly the best use of web 2.0 technology I’ve ever encountered. Compare this with last.fm, where sharing music is built into the DNA of the service: last.fm’s entire raison d’être is allowing users to find people with similar music tastes making it easier to find new music. Whereas Spotify is, at the end of the day, a glorified music player – an iTunes you can’t take with you.
Now I realise that having access to a huge music catalogue without having to pay is a massive deal and that many hope Spotify will be the saviour of the music industry. But, when you consider that, despite the fact that it was essentially available for free, more people chose to download In Rainbows from file-sharing sites than the official Radiohead site, it strikes me that Spotify is not going to save the music industry from anything.
In fact, one could argue that all it will do is mean that the people who are still buying music will instead stream it. And with Spotify relying on advertising revenue, along with every other web 2.0 start-up, it strikes me as unlikely that this revenue will fill any holes left by CD sales. But were it to build the kind of social functionality that pervades last.fm into its, undoubtedly impressive, offering, it might be able to start putting together much more interesting, and lucrative, packages which might just fill a few holes.
Spotify image by Sorosh on flickr