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Spotify Remains Steadfast On Free Tier Despite Taylor Swift Fight

A spokesperson tells BuzzFeed News that the service is doubling down on music's right to be free — whether Swift and her cohorts like it or not.

Posted on November 14, 2014, at 9:44 a.m. ET

Danny Moloshok / Reuters

At the crux of Taylor Swift's disagreement with Spotify — which led her to remove her entire catalog from the streaming service earlier this month — is her contention that her music, including new album, 1989, should be available only to paid subscribers, and withheld from users who listen to the service for free (with ads). In Swift's view, Spotify's free tier, which generates significantly less revenue per play than paid tiers that charge users $5 or $10 per month, devalues art and deflates music sales.

"I think there should be an inherent value placed on art," she said yesterday in an interview with Time magazine. "I didn't see that happening, perception-wise, when I put my music on Spotify."

In a phone interview Thursday with BuzzFeed News, Spotify's Global Head of Communications and Public Policy Jonathan Prince responded to Swift's argument, saying that his company believes imposing any limitations on what a user can listen to online simply doesn't work.

"We love music and we obviously want artists to be able to express themselves the way they want, but there's so much free music out there already, whether or not you're on a free streaming service," Prince said. "There's free YouTube, there's free piracy, there's free radio. If that's what we have to compete with, it defies logic to us to put music only in a premium tier when it's already available out there in the world to billions of people."

Swift's wrath toward Spotify, and that of the head of her record label, Scott Borchetta, hasn't spread to competitive services like Beats, Rhapsody, and Rdio, where her back catalog remains available for streaming (1989 is currently being withheld from all streaming services in an arguably successful "windowing" strategy designed to drive up sales).

"With Beats Music and Rhapsody you have to pay for a premium package in order to access my albums," she told Time. "And that places a perception of value on what I've created. On Spotify, they don't have any settings, or any kind of qualifications for who gets what music."

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek
Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek

Swift and her team aren't the first to make this particular complaint about Spotify. Adele's manager, Jonathan Dickins, chided the company for being inflexible in a recent panel interview in Dublin. "I don't believe one size necessarily fits all with streaming," he said. "My feeling would be to get around the situation with someone like Taylor Swift — and Spotify won't do it — [by allowing] a window between making something available on the premium service earlier than it's made available on the free service."

These comments sound reasonable enough on the surface — one level of access for free users, and another level of access for paid users, similar to the distinction between Hulu and its premium Hulu Plus offering. But Spotify has stayed ahead of its premium-only competitors by luring users in with the promise of its entire catalog free of charge — and then gently nudging them to go paid to avoid ads. At last count the service had 50 million users internationally, compared to Rhapsody's 2 million, with 12.5 million of them paying for the premium service. According to Prince, the company's user base has grown by 25% in the last six months alone.

With those numbers, it's unlikely Spotify will be changing tack any time soon, even if it means making high-profile enemies like Swift or Adele — or Beyoncé, whose last album, Beyoncé, still isn't available on Spotify almost a year after release. Prince called holdouts from the service "outliers" and said they haven't changed his company's thinking.

"As the industry changes, do you sometimes see outliers who are not happy and it takes time for them to adjust? Sure. That happens," Prince said. "We're OK with that. We're seeing massive growth in our user base year after year after year."

Does the company worry that an exodus of artists from the service could reverse that trend? Not that Prince is willing to admit.

"Just because an artist is windowing here, or withdrawing a catalog there, doesn't mean that we're suddenly going to go back to the days when Tower Records is opening a massive store in Union Square," he said. "That's not happening. Streaming is here to stay."

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