This Is What You Will Pay For

Jaime Brooks:

Podcasts were supposed to help them do this. Spotify used to address investor concerns about the viability of their business model by comparing themselves to Netflix, a company that was successfully able to woo subscribers away from expensive licensed fare with their own original first-party content. For this to work, podcasts would have had to overshadow major label music on Spotify the way “House of Cards” and “Stranger Things” came to dominate users’ consumption habits on Netflix. That did not happen. All these years and acquisitions later, podcasts currently account for only seven percent of total listening hours on the platform. Spotify doesn’t compare themselves to Netflix anymore. Instead, they’ve taken to invoking YouTube, a business that revolves around selling advertising.

When I came across Jaime Brooks on Spotify, I worried about how the platform’s recommendation “algorithm” would hold up as generators become more popular and sophisticated. If it already struggles to understand that a forty-six second track by a brand new artist doesn’t belong anywhere near a “Mozart For Babies” compilation, I wondered, how will it contend with what’s coming? This was na├»ve of me. I was still thinking in terms of Netflix’s business model, where a flood of low-quality generative assets clogging up recommendation queues would likely trigger a wave of cancelled subscriptions. YouTube’s business model, on the other hand, cultivates lower expectations. While your average Spotify subscriber probably spends most of their time on the platform listening to the same music over and over again, YouTube is full of manipulative, low-quality media that succeeds in making money whenever it can successfully bait a user into sitting through a few minutes of it. Jaime would fit in well there.

I am not sure how much holds up in my rebuttal to Spotify CEO Daniel Ek’s 2019 blog post about his issues with Apple’s platform, though I think most of it is fair. But the argument which I keep thinking about is how Spotify should be the name-brand premium product to Apple’s store-brand generic offering in Apple Music, and it keeps undermining that factor. Repositioning itself as music’s YouTube is not doing that reputation any favours, particularly not when music has its YouTube already: it is called YouTube. Spotify can and should be better than this, and other streaming music products should be on watch to avoid the future described by Brooks and others.

Alas, Spotify is becoming more like TikTok.