iTunes, Spotify, and why neither gets the job done – Part 2

20Oct11

Yesterday I complained about iTunes in Part 1, and today I ramble on about Spotify!

Spotify came to the U.S. this year, and I hoped it would save me from iTunes. If you’re not familiar with Spotify, here’s a crash course: like iTunes, you open up a software/browser and all of your music is there to listen to and manage. You also have access to EVERYTHING ELSE whenever you want, because Spotify has the same record label agreements as Apple. So very simply, you can type “Led Zeppelin” into the search bar, and all of their music that is available through online stores will show up. One click, and you’re listening to whatever song you want. Spotify eliminates the need for you to actually buy a specific album. Right now I have a playlist set up of new albums that I want to “try before you buy”, including James Morrison, Ryan Adams, MuteMath, and Mayer Hawthorne. I can hear these albums whenever I want, without paying a cent. Spotify also has an app for Android phones (and every other phone) so I thought all of my problems would be solved. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, it is. Spotify has a free version which I am currently using, and a paid version. On the free version, there are a couple of drawbacks: my music is sometimes interrupted for a short advertisement, I can’t use the mobile app, and some of the music I had in my iTunes library isn’t recognized (DRM rights, etc). The paid version ($9.99/month) eliminates the first 2 problems. I pay way more than $10 each month for music, so this sounds like a good investment since I’ll get access to everything…the music I would have purchased, the music I wasn’t sure about, and every single other song ever. This idea isn’t brand new…Napster 2.0/Rhapsody/etc tried to push out this subscription idea, but the problem was providing subscribers with a great software package that also included access to all music through securing deals with record labels. Spotify is the perfect combination of available music, and an easy-to-use software tool.

My initial thoughts on Spotify were all very positive except for 2 things:
1. Are my favorite artists going to get paid?
2. What do I do in 10 years when some other product comes along…and now I haven’t bought any music for 10 years? (since I was just a monthly subscriber)

Artists do get paid by Spotify when you listen to their music, but not much as much as an album purchase. In fact, it’s an insultingly low number. So the answer to #1 is “yeah, I guess”. Question #2 still does not have a good answer…if you choose to fully immerse yourself into the monthly subscription universe, you’re in. You don’t “own” anything anymore. Personally, since I subscribe to SiriusXM satellite radio in order to get alternative content like Howard Stern and music presented by DJs (yes they can still be relevant), I ultimately decided that it would be foolish to subscribe to yet another service where I won’t “own” the music. I’m saying “own” in quotes because I assume someday it will sound silly that anyone ever owned anything, if these subscription services take over. So what do I do about Spotify?

There are some other good software packages out there like DoubleTwist, Winamp and MediaMonkey for example, but the problem is that they don’t have agreements with record labels to sell their music directly. So there’s no “built in” tool to buy music, and they link you to a third party like Amazon to get new music into your library, then a couple of clicks later the songs can show up in your lap. A couple of clicks isn’t a huge deal, but let’s be honest…in 2011, the expectation is that things will operate a little easier than that. This is THE REASON why iTunes dominates…because without their store, it’s just another software.

I assume that all of my complaints about iTunes and Spotify somehow track back to the idea that they need to make money. That’s fine of course, but if that need for money overpowers the ease-of-use of your product, then it’s not fine. One of the bigger functions of these products is to capture information about what you’re purchasing, in order to sell that info (in some cases, like for advertising purposes) and to better predict what you’ll want to buy in the future. I understand that this is how business is done, but quite frankly I don’t want or need the predictions of Apple or advertisers to point me toward music they hope I will buy. Unless your company is named Pandora, you have no idea what music I like…so keep it out of my way entirely. There’s a user agreement we accept before using these products, so nothing I’m saying here is a real surprise, but the presence of profit-driven functionality damages the software in the end.

Look, I have given in to the notion that I actually “need” these products to simplify my music search and organization, and I’m sure that I’m not alone. Overall, they are good products that meet the needs of most users who don’t dig in to their music as much as I do. But what I don’t “need” is to be hassled with the constraints these products present. Maybe it’s just a matter of time until these wrinkles get ironed out, or maybe I’m on to something. Either way, I feel like a kid walking into a candy store with $20 that can’t figure out exactly how to get what I want. Just give me my music/candy options displayed easily, let me sneak a taste of something sugary without getting in trouble, and don’t get all preoccupied with recommending what you think I’ll like…part of the fun is getting a little creative! All I want is one product that will organize my music cleanly, run efficiently on my computer and phone, and reward the artists and users with fair content pricing and delivery. We’re not there yet, but the constant competition between services like iTunes and Spotify can only be good. May the best software win…

What do you think about this topic? Comment below

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