Spotify just made its free tier way better

Spotify has unveiled a major expansion of its free service, giving users greater control of what songs to play.

Spotify just made its free tier way better
Spotify began trading on the New York Stock Exchange earlier this month. Photo: AP Photo/Richard Drew

Weeks after its successful listing on the New York Stock Exchange, the leading streaming company said it saw wide possibilities to grow and identified its free, advertising-backed offering as key to its strategy.

“We know that it's the only way that we are going to be able to achieve our goal of getting billions of fans on the platform and getting the entire music industry to the size that we think it should be,” Gustav Söderström, the Swedish company's chief research and development officer, told a news conference in New York.

In the first significant redesign of its free tier since 2014, Spotify said that non-paying users will be able to pick and choose which songs to play on up to 15 curated playlists – roughly 40 hours of music per day.

Non-subscribers previously had to settle for a shuffle of tracks.

Spotify said it had also engineered the new free service to take up 75 percent less mobile data to draw in users who have limits on their cellular packages.

It said that users in important emerging markets such as Brazil, Mexico and Vietnam relied most of the time on wi-fi to listen, indicating concerns over how much data the app eats up.

Spotify unveiled the revamp hours after the industry announced that global revenue from recorded music soared 8.1 percent in 2017 – the fastest rate on record.

The third straight year of expansion is almost entirely attributable to Spotify and rival streaming companies such as Deezer, Tidal and the platforms of Apple and Amazon.

Ample room for growth

Spotify is by far the largest streaming company. But Söderström said that far more people could be listening in a world of more than seven billion people, roughly a quarter of whom carry smartphones.

Spotify says it had 71 million subscribers at the end of 2017 and that another 90 million used the free service. It is often a gateway, with Söderström saying that 60 percent of Spotify's new subscribers last year migrated from the free tier.

The advertising-backed service – known in the industry as “freemium” and shunned by most rivals – was long controversial among artists and labels who said it amounted to giving away music for free.

But Söderström said that Spotify reached new licensing argreements with labels for the expanded freemium. Spotify says it has paid back more than eight billion euros ($9.8 billion) to rights-holders.

And while many artists grumble that they see little of the music industry's newfound wealth, the most vocal critics have been mollified. Pop superstar Taylor Swift, who once boycotted Spotify, recently tied up with the company to release a video.

Söderström likened Spotify's free service to an old-school radio station that popularizes hits and its subscriber-based platform to a CD vendor.

“Today Spotify is both the radio station and the record store. We both create demand for music streaming and we monetize it. Unlike radio, though, importantly, we actually share the advertising revenue with artists and labels,” he said.

Article by AFP's Shaun Tandon.

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