How I Listen

An Open Letter to Spotify About Taylor Swift and Why I’m Unsubscribing [Bill Werde]

How-taylor-swift-conquered-the-music-world-by-age-22By former Billboard Editor Bill Werde on his tumblr Media. Music  Business. Life.

Dear Spotify,

As best as I can recall, I’ve subscribed to you since you launched in the United States. While most Americans pay $40 a year for music, I’ve been proud to pay $120 a year because I fundamentally believe in supporting artists and rights holders. And I thought Spotify was a good way to do that.

I’ve also loved your service. I’d been waiting for years for technology and rights to finally catch up with the hopes, dreams and ambitions of most music fans, and enable an almighty “jukebox in the sky.” And that’s largely been my experience with Spotify: streaming what I want, when I want it, to various speakers in my house, earbuds etc.

Until recently.

Less than a year ago, Beyonce shocked the world and dropped a surprise album. You didn’t have the album for me to listen to when my Twitter feed exploded with people talking about this amazing new work, but I didn’t really blame you then. I just assumed it was necessary as part of the surprise release, or a condition of exclusivity for Apple. I bought Beyonce’s album within seconds of its release. I figured you’d get the album for me to stream with my other playlists in short order. I was wrong though: the album still isn’t up on Spotify, all this time later.

Of course, last week, Taylor Swift released her new album, 1989. And to be honest, I was pretty pissed off that it wasn’t on Spotify. This wasn’t a surprise release. Quite the contrary, Taylor has spent the last month or so making sure that the entire world knew this album was coming, whether they wanted to or not. But ok, sure: we all also know Team Taylor loves her gigantic first week sales numbers, and I guess I assumed again that once her first week of sales passed, the album would be streamable. After all, the rest of her catalog was available on Spotify.

However, this morning a friend on Twitter told me that Taylor Swift’s entire catalog had been taken down from Spotify. And this, for me, is the final straw. Try to see it my way, please: most of America is paying $40 annually for music. I’m paying three times that, and for what? The privilege of not being able to play the two most acclaimed, buzz-worthy albums of the past year, by the two biggest contemporary stars in music? I’m sorry, but if Spotify is meant to be a second-tier, later-window strategy, then I’ll be happy to pay half of what I’m paying now. But charging me premium prices for a non-premium experience? No thanks. 

While we’re on the subject, I have to add that I think you’re missing a golden PR opportunity today. Either that, or all your talk about paying artists has been just that—talk. You have said you pay nearly 70% of all the revenues that we receive back to rights holders.” Instead of responding to arguably the most popular artist in the world pulling her music from your service by creating cute playlist poetry (although granted, it was pretty clever), perhaps this would be a really good time to share some math. Like: how much money would Taylor have likely made from your service during her first week? How much money will she be losing each week she isn’t on Spotify? I have to imagine the answers aren’t so flattering, or you’d be sharing them already, and loudly. 

The part that troubles me is I do believe in a streaming future—it’s unfolding all around us as I type. While I’m asking you about math, perhaps you could also project how much money Taylor would have likely made the week her album was released in a world in which there were 10 or 20 or 30 million “premium” Spotify subscribers. Your CEO, Daniel Ek, said that When we get to 40 million subs,” Spotify’s contributions to rights holders would “be as large as the iTunes revenue stream.” So how much money would Taylor have made first-week on Spotify if you were at 40 million users? Because maybe if she saw that number, she’d understand that keeping her album on Spotify might mean less money this year, but more money down the road. And then maybe she’d put her album back on Spotify, and then I wouldn’t have to unsubscribe.

My hope is that math actually is on your side, and that if and as you scale, rights holders will actually begin to make real money from you. After all, digital download sales are now plummeting at similar rates to CDs. And let me be clear: Taylor pulling her album represents a short term problem for Spotify, but a bigger, longer term problem for the music business. If streaming services aren’t the answer for the music business, it’s running out of time to come up with a different one.

Y’all have your party line about the revenue you share—your PR team answered me on Twitter this AM. You keep saying that you give nearly 70 percent of your revenues to rights holders as if it’s your mantra. But the soundbite obviously isn’t protecting you. Maybe you ARE paying a brilliant amount of money to labels and they aren’t passing it along quickly or transparently enough; it wouldn’t be the first time that’s ever happened at a record label. Or maybe you DO just need scale and then your payday for artists would have them racing to debut albums on your service as opposed to pulling them off in perpetuity. 

But whether these are problems of optics or problems of fiscal reality, ultimately, these are your problems, not mine. As you think about going public, or even staying in business, I’d hope you’ll solve them. I’m just a fan who wants—and isn’t receiving—fair value for paying $120 a year. And that ends today. 

PS: I still believe in supporting artists and rights holders. I just don’t know how I’m going to do that moving forward. I don’t want downloads, any more than I wanted CDs five years ago. If any fellow fans have suggestions, I’m all ears. 

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23 Comments

  1. Taylor’s businessmen made an estimated $300,000 from the prerelease single “Shake It Off” at Spotify alone before it was taken down once the album came out.

  2. My favorite way to receive a new album is by vinyl with a download card straight from the artist. Guess this isn’t practical for all artists, but it’s a medium I consistently seek out, and will pay top dollar for.

  3. So you’re cancelling your subscription because you can’t get Taylor Swift and Beyonce?
    That “Great Jukebox in the Sky” has more to offer.

  4. I find this tirade unfair on so many levels.
    First off, you think $10 a month is too much, for access to nearly the entire history of recorded music.
    Then you challenge Spotify to a hypothetical math showdown to prove Swift would’ve gotten paid more by Spotify, via 70% of your lousy $10.
    Obviously it’s up to artists and labels to decide if they want to participate. I hope they will, but “letters” like this are the problem, not the solution. You turn Swift’s move into a publicity stunt and make it more likely for others to do the same.
    I look forward to your open letter to Netflix. Obviously any service that doesn’t have everything isn’t worth paying for.

  5. If you leave Spotify you leave all steaming services meaning you will have to buy downloads or CDs -fine if you want that.
    Streaming ,on the rise, is the same for all services not just Spotify.
    Quite a choice against the flow.

  6. it’s her music and she can do what she wants with it, but i have a hard time understanding why she wouldn’t include her back catalog on spotify.

  7. Interesting points made here. However, as a few comments point out, trying to equate $120 annually for having unlimited access to decades upon decades of music is pretty telling. Especially since you’re unwilling to fork out $10 to have unlimited access to the full album of Swift’s 1989 for whenever you care to listen to it. The annual rate you pay on Spotify is worth roughly 12 albums (on iTunes at $10/each). You’ll listen to far more music than that in 2 weeks. Why are you so adamant against buying an album on CD or digital download?

  8. It’s not just Taylor Swift & Beyonce, those are just the ones you miss. Garth Brooks, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Bob Seger, Tool, The Beatles, and the list goes on.
    These aren’t random and the people in these camps aren’t stupid. They did their own numbers instead of drinking the Spotify Koolaid with the promise of saving the industry with streaming. They saw, like many others are now seeing, that steaming is not the magic pill to save the music business.
    YOU sir are the good example of how Spotify hurts takes money away from the artists. Before Spotify, You are respectable and I applaud you supporting artists by purchasing legally and signing up to a legal service. ButI am sure you spending more than the average user for music. Then when Spotify came along you could spend much less by getting a $10 a month subscription. The problem is that everyone else who was like you did that too, wanted to save money, and did just that. Now as a whole, the pool of money they artists split up is less.
    The REAL problem is not you.The promise of streaming is that the people that pirate, share & steal music would no longer do that. They would see it wasn’t worth all the trouble it took to steal & share music and if could get everything for $10 a month legally and stop.
    But that didn’t happen. They kept stealing and respectable people like yourself that support artists, spent less. The end result, Spotify’s overall revue to the artist is significantly less than direct sales like iTunes or amazon.
    The people in these camps are smart. This isn’t an ego play. They saw in the numbers, that they would sell more records by not having their music on Spotify. BTW – they are right. If you look at album charts, The Beatles and in the top downloaded albums every month.

  9. You can always going back to the real sound and start buying vinyl again- You may also be able to take free download codes for “on the go” usage
    Enjoy the sound of music

  10. Bill Werde has lost his mind.
    If Taylor Swift and Beyonce are the reason why anyone subscribes to Spotify then they should cancel their subscription because they can listen for free via a million other outlets. However, if you support lesser known acts and are always in search of something new to listen to, then Spotify is a great resource.
    This action by Big Machine has more to do with publicity for 1989 and creating leverage for its $200 million sale than setting a precedence.

  11. I agree with Back2elle so much. Sure, I love my fair share of Taylor Swift and Beyonce, and I would do so much to have The Beatles on Spotify, but there is still SO much music available. It’s literally at our fingertips. I’m 100% sure that I would spend well over $120 if I were to buy every single song/album that I’ve listened to on Spotify. I’ve had it now for over 3 years, and I cannot imagine my music-listening-life without it. I’ve discovered a ton of music, and my taste has become so diverse because of it.
    Another thing I’d like to say is that I used to be a Taylor Swift fan. I bought her albums. I bought tickets to see her live. And I listened to her on Spotify. That means that if there are other fans out there like me who buy the albums to support the artist, as well as stream them (a continuous flow of cash going to the label/artist instead of the one chunk from buying the album), having music on Spotify really only helps the artist.

  12. Bill, why don’t you BUY your favorite music, if you “believe in supporting artists and rights holder”?
    Nobody can finance music production or make a living from streaming revenues.

  13. Bill, as a former Billboard Editor, I’m surprised you are not familiar with music streaming and Spotify in particular. Unfortunately, if you’ happen to be artist-centric and not aware of the problems created by streaming services, you may want to take a closer look at the economics.
    A group of very smart people have looked at the streaming model and found that the numbers don’t work, for either Spotify or the artist. It appears the only ones to really benefit from streaming are the labels, who are equity partners in Spotify with no plans to share their windfall with their artists and the owners and investors in Spotify. This is all dependent on whether they can float an IPO.
    Back to the numbers. Musicians and songwriters will not survive unless they are able to sell their music. I mean doesn’t that make sense? If you value music I suggest you return to purchasing it.
    The person who commented before me was far more succinct and right; on the money.

  14. If Taylor Swift & Beyonce is the music you crave the most – just turn on the radio. Spotify – and any other Jukebox in the cloud has so much more to offer and discover.

  15. Its funny how people slate Spotify for giving 70% to the labels, when the exact same amount is given by iTunes. Why are iTunes ok when Spotify is not?

  16. @PJ Wassermann: that doesnt make any mathmatical sense.
    If so the issue is:
    1: The contract between artist and label which aint any streaming-services fault and only the artist and label are to be blamed (yes also the artist!)
    2: the bigger “issue”; that way more artists gets money from streaming, but just a lower amount because the same pie needs to be sliced in more (therefore thinner) slices. The alternative for this is to go back to allow a few labels to have a monopoly on distribution. Is that better?
    Its so strange that we talk about the pr play value. Why not the total?
    Is 100 streams for 1 cent pr stream better than a 1$ download? Any single value aint relevant as long as we dont talk about quantity too.

  17. Isn’t the real problem here that most career artists have sold their rights to large corporations like WMG and SONY whose ONLY interest is increasing stock prices? As corporations should, these companies do whatever is necessary to attempt to make that happen. Things like license their entire catalog to third-party companies like Spotify because they weren’t smart enough to develop and monetize streaming technology themselves and they’d rather the money that would have taken go to large executive salaries. These third-party companies have investors and valuation to worry about and paying artists fairly is not something they can or want to do as a business. Doesn’t make sense. If you’re a baker, are you concerned with making sure the guy who milled the flour is getting fairly compensated for all of his hard work? No. You want to keep your supply costs low and sell your donuts for as much as you can get.
    If an artist chooses to sell their art as a commodity to an investor or “partner” who manages the rights and distro relationships, they are the only ones to blame when they don’t see ancillary revenue because their label makes a deal that benefits the label as a whole and not the individual artists. Spotify is a business. They are not responsible for the financial woes of the artists whose music is played on their site. As a business, their only supply concern should be to secure the rights of as many songs as possible in order to provide maximum value to its subscribers. It’s no different than Time-Warner deciding which networks are necessary to keep people paying their monthly cable bill…
    So if Bill isn’t happy because Spotify doesn’t have Taylor or Beyonce’s new CD, that’s his choice to leave. Personally, I don’t listen to synthesized formulaic teen pop written by 45-year old men, and my 5-year old listens to Cat Stevens and Led Zeppelin still, so I could care less about these records. I am happy to pay Spotify for the 95% of music that I seek to listen to that they indeed provide. That said, I’d much rather subscribe to the artists or publishers directly whose music I love. Maybe someday that will be possible…

  18. Bill’s open letter above was important. It created the conversation that followed. But most of the talk that followed is just that: talk. The simple truth of the matter is that Spotify is the problem but artists are ao eager to be seen and heard that they refuse to stand up for their own right to earn a living. So they don’t. Earn a living that is. Spotify pays artists .0007 per stream. Yep. You read it right. 7/1000th of one penny. It’s total bullshiite. Should be against the law. What’s worse? That’s only IF the people listening are Premium subscribers. If they’re not then the artists get paid even less! (How is it the artists’ responsibility if Spotify can’t get people to subscribe to Premium or not? Especially since their revenue comes from advertising in those cases anyway…. Why should the artist pay for that?) Can you imagine? Less than 7/1000th of one cent? Yep. It’s criminal. And Taylor Swift is just the beginning. This has created an avalanche of artists from all genres doing the same thing — just saying no to bullshit business terms that rape the artist and trick the consumer. Just say no to Spotify so we can transition quickly to streaming services that DO compensate artists well. Spotify is not that. And that’s all that needs to be said.

  19. I totally agree with the comment left by “The Ambassador”.
    The current Spotify business practice tricks the fan and hurts the artist. While the concept of Spotify is brilliant, the fact the artist isn’t compensated even close to fairly hurts the music industry as a whole.
    Most fans want to support artists who create music they love. But if fans aren’t aware of the fact that the current Spotify payout system hurts the artist, they will continue using the service and nothing will change. Bringing the issue to the attention of the public will help raise awareness & (hopefully) pressure Spotify to pay artists more than .0007 per stream. Spotify will obsiously not do this voluntarily since it will mean a significant decrease in their profit. But if the majority of current Spotify subscribers/users pull out (as Bill Werde here did), Spotify will have to no choice.

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