When it comes to digital media consumption in the UK, its easy to miss those innovations in the US that we take for granted. One of the first things many American students notice upon arriving here is the inability to access Hulu and Pandora. One acclaimed service that they have here but not in the US though is Spotify. Spotify is an online P2P music streaming service currently available only in Sweden, Finland, Norway, the UK, France, and Spain. Naturally, I thought I would take advantage of my presence here to try out this local delicacy. Currently, free Spotify accounts are only available by invite and even though I signed up when I first got here, I only got my invite last week. After playing around with it for a week, I think I’ve got a good feel for the product and here are my thoughts and some screenshots for those of you across the pond.
First the good aspects. The user interface is primitive but easy to use (in fact it reminds me a little bit of iTunes). The sound quality is great and there is almost no lag, thanks to Spotify’s P2P streaming technology. According to a recent speech by their CEO this reduces some of the pressure of its enormous bandwidth consumption. (On a side note I’m still a little confused on how P2P streaming works. It’s not like P2P downloading where you actually have the files on your computer. Is it just mirroring off your computer?)
The library is also pretty solid. Of course you have your top 40, classics like Elvis, the Rolling Stones, and Elton John, and some lesser known artists like Bon Iver and the a capella group Straight No Chaser. They also have a good amount of live albums and movie soundtracks. The only notable absences I could find were The Beatles and Pink Floyd but they’re hard to find online anywhere. Additional features include Internet radio and the ability to share playlists with other Spotify users. They also have a partnership with 7digital if you want to buy and download any song. Currently, the free version has banner ads and a 30 second audio commercial every 3 songs or so. It’s still a lot less disruptive and obnoxious than another UK streaming service, we7.
Now for my complaints. First you can’t just stream directly from their website, you have to install Spotify on your computer first. I understand this is technically necessary because it’s P2P, but it restricts your access to computers with Spotify installed. If you want to use Spotify on your phone, you have to pay £9.99 a month for a Premium account (also includes ad-free and the ability to store 3,333 songs locally). The radio is pretty plain and doesn’t learn like Pandora. I also want them to open the free accounts up to everyone because right now I can’t share playlists with anyone.
I’m not saying I don’t like Spotify. It’s pretty good for sampling new songs and listening to songs or albums I wouldn’t necessarily like enough to download. I was just a little underwhelmed after all the hype and wait. To me it feels a lot like Rhapsody in the US although the free Rhapsody account only lets you listen to 25 songs a month. I think it has a lot of potential once it opens up in more countries. It definitely has the right idea to move songs into the cloud whereas iTunes is going to see a decline in a few years. However, I also have doubts about its long term sustainability since according to their Wikipedia article, the company reported a $4.4 million loss in 2008. Right now, I’m just not compelled enough to subscribe to a Premium account even though I think that’s where they’re looking to grow.
What’s the final verdict? I’ll definitely keep using it for the next two and half months that I’m here. When I come home in June though I’ll probably get cut off unless I go through a UK VPN and its not worth the hassle. So unfortunately as of right now, Spotify is fun to play around with but not a long term keeper.