Spotify: iPhone sideloads for £120 a year, unlimited
Needs Jobs' blessing, though
Streaming music sensation Spotify today announced a music download service for £120 a year. That's how much an annual subscription to Spotify Premium costs - and you'll need to be a Premium member to use its iPhone/iPod Touch native client.
For now, it's all rather moot - there's no guarantee that Apple will approve this powerful new rival to its iTunes media shoppe - particularly as Spotify has ambitions on serving up video, too, as we reported last month.
Spotify made the announcement on its blog this morning, but it could make no guarantee that the software will ever appear on Apple hardware. Apple's App Store is the only place to acquire iPhone/Touch software "officially" - otherwise you must jailbreak the device - and Apple manages the approval process jealously. It could easily put paid to Spotify's iPhone ambitions.
Spotify also has an Android client in the works, but it has yet to announce Windows, Java or Symbian plans.
As with the Android client, the native iPhone version of Spotify rejects streaming as the method of acquiring music, and it's really just another proprietary music download player, pulling songs you request out of the Spotify desktop client's encrypted cache, and syncing them to a mobile player. That's a DRM of sorts, because the music is trapped within a properietary, vertically integrated system. It isn't yet clear whether you'll extract an MP3, and sideload from Spotify Premium to another device.
So Spotify is immediately comparable with Virgin's upcoming ISP download service, MusicStation, Datz and Comes With Music. How does £120 compare price wise? Datz's Music Lounge is £99.99 a year for unlimited music - the DRM needs a dongle. Virgin hasn't disclosed prices for its forthcoming service, but the unlimited option will only be available at the top tier of a tiered service for "the price of a couple of albums a month". That suggests something in the £15 to £20 per month, or £180 to £240 per annum range.
Omnifone's MusicStation is sold through carriers who set their own pricing: Vodafone UK charges £1.95 a week (£101.40 pa) but that only gets you the mobile client, not the rich desktop version. That too has DRM. So pricing-wise, Spotify is much of a muchness, and there are cheaper annual music subs.
Spotify needs a viable revenue stream, and this may be its best hope.
As we exclusively revealed here at El Reg, Spotify had fewer than 17,000 paying Premium subscribers in May, despite rocketing to over 500,000 registered users from a standing start. Advertising income was only £82,000 in May, a long way short of covering the cost of the royalties it must pay.
So will you cough up £120 a year? And is no-strings-attached MP3 format a deal-breaker for you? ®
@ Graham Cobb
Exactly what I'm talking about - a total rental model where individual 'ownership' of published music doesn't really happen any more. I'll be sad to see the end of my CD collection, and lord only knows what this will do to HiFi, but I think that's the way it's going.
As regards paying the artists, I believe the best model would be that the artists work directly with the likes of Spotify and recieve a proportionate percentage of that £5/month - based on what you've listened to that month. That would be the fairest option by far.
At this point the role of record companies will change into little more than music-orientated loan companies - sources of finance that artists use when they need to invest in advertising/touring expenses/making videos/expensive producers.
Not bad but balance needs tweaking
This shows that someone in the music industry is thinking but the balance is still not quite there yet.
I would pay about £10/month for a service which let me download what I like, including major artists, and keep the files (in a standards compliant format, usable on any of my devices). Alternatively, I would pay about £5/month for a service which was purely rental -- listen while I am subscribed -- as long as it also worked on all my devices and carried all the artists I am interested in.
Personally I am sure that in 5 years this discussion will be considered very quaint. Everyone will subscribe to an on-demand rental service (of which there will be a choice of several) at somewhere around £5/month (maybe for the individual, maybe for the whole family) which will work with all their devices. We won't bother with hoarding MP3's any more because we are all paying a small amount to have access to them whenever we want (and if one goes out of business people switch to another one). The only tough part of this vision is working out how the artists get paid (i.e. how the £5/month gets split between the parties involved and between the various artists).
It strikes me that all Apple would need to do to kill this would be to offer a similar streaming service on the iPhone so that you stream a whole track rather than just a 30 second sample. One reason I use Spotify is a 'try before you buy' .. finding out if I like other tracks on an album or other music by the same artist. 30 seconds isn't enough to do this.