Since its launch in 2008, the company has maintained a policy of all its music being available to both free and paying users, with the strategy one of the main reasons Spotify fell out so publicly with Taylor Swift in 2014.
That policy may be changing, according to the Wall Street Journal, which claims that Spotify is “considering allowing some artists to start releasing albums only to its 20 million-plus subscribers” while withholding them “temporarily” from its free users.
The report added that this will be “a test” rather than a permanent change in policy, and claimed that Coldplay were in line to be the first artists to benefit with their new album A Head Full of Dreams, but that the plans were shelved when “the group’s management couldn’t guarantee that it could keep the album off other free sites such as YouTube during the time it was unavailable on Spotify Free”.
The album was released on other streaming services – those that do not have free tiers – on 4 December, but will now be available on Spotify a week later on 11 December for all its users.
In a statement, Spotify’s global head of communications and public policy, Jonathan Prince, defended the company’s existing approach, but confirmed the discussions with Coldplay’s management team.
“We are 100% committed to our model because we believe that a free, ad-supported tier combined with a more robust premium tier is the best way to deliver music to fans, create value for artists and songwriters, and grow the industry,” said Prince.
“In that context, we explored a wide range of promotional options for the new Coldplay album and ultimately decided, together with management, that Coldplay and its fans would best be served with the full album on both free and premium this Friday.”
Taylor Swift’s desire to keep her music for premium subscribers only was knocked back by Spotify in 2014, ultimately leading her to withdraw her entire back catalogue from the service.
The relationship has since deteriorated, with Swift saying in August 2015 that Spotify’s attitude compared poorly to Apple’s – another digital music service that she challenged publicly this year over its plans not to pay musicians during the free trial of its Apple Music service.
“I found it really ironic that the multibillion-dollar company reacted to criticism with humility, and the start-up with no cash flow reacted to criticism like a corporate machine,” said Swift.
Swift, Coldplay, Beyoncé, Adele and other big artists have pressed Spotify to change its policy in recent years.
“The premium tier to me are real active record buyers, paying their $9.99 or €9.99 or £9.99 a month. My feeling would be to get around the situation with someone like Taylor Swift – but Spotify won’t do it – is a window between making something available on the premium service, earlier than it’s made available on the free service,” said Adele’s manager, Jonathan Dickins, in November 2014.
That month, Spotify’s chief executive, Daniel Ek, had defended his company’s free tier in a blog post, claiming that it had been key to the company’s (at that time) $2bn of royalties paid out to music rights holders.
“More than 80% of our subscribers started as free users. If you take away only one thing, it should be this: No free, no paid, no $2bn,” wrote Ek.
Now Spotify is preparing to test the theory of some of those stars – and the labels they are signed to – that temporarily restricting big new albums to subscribers may persuade a few more of those free users to start paying.
Adele could be the first candidate: her new album, 25, is not available on any streaming service – free or paid – but the star (and Dickins) may now have the option of reserving it for subscribers on Spotify, as well as releasing it on subscription-only services such as Apple Music and Google Play Music.
This article was written by Stuart Dredge, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 9th December 2015 09.25 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010