Yesterday I was able to take Spotify for a test-drive after getting a beta invite. My dad was nearby, so I asked him for a song to see how deep the catalog was. He recommended “Trouser Press” by the Bonzo Dog Band.

I don’t get my dad’s taste in music.

I also don’t get this post about Spotify by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Titled Spotify’s US Launch Highlights the Good, the Bad, and the Promise of Subscription-Based Music Services, it seems mostly to use the launch of Spotify as an excuse to dust off archaic complaints against the entire recording industry.

Instead of being forced to buy full-length CDs at $15.99, fans can now make their own decision about how much they value music and how much of it they want.

What the EFF? Setting aside this patronizing view of consumers being compelled to purchase music against their will, what happened to iTunes? Thousands of record labels have provided single songs for sale on the site since it launched in 2003. Before iTunes, record labels had been experimenting with digital single sales since at least 1997, before the arrival of Napster even. 1See, for example, Sue Zeidler, New Music Goes on Sale Online, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, pg 5, Sept. 8, 1997. An entire generation has grown up that hasn’t ever been “forced to buy full-length CDs at $15.99”.

The EFF continues:

Of course, the record labels could have launched a service like this years ago.

This statement is baffling for a number of reasons.

First, Spotify isn’t the first streaming music subscription service. Others include Rhapsody, Rdio, and Mog. I didn’t pick those three randomly, they’re the three services that the EFF mentioned only sentences before. Rhapsody has had music from the catalogs of all the major labels available since 2002 — nine years ago.

Second, record labels aren’t necessarily the ones who should be developing services like this in the first place. They’re in the business of recording and marketing music, not technology. It makes as much sense as saying, prior to the internet, that record labels should have been the ones developing and operating physical stores where CDs and albums were sold.

Put another way, if technology companies could have made the type of service the EFF finds acceptable years ago, but for the record labels’ licensing terms, why is no one asking why technology companies haven’t developed and recorded their own catalog of music?

Most baffling is why the EFF wrote this in the first place. The EFF is a public interest group that bills itself as “the first line of defense” for “when our freedoms in the networked world come under attack.” It’s difficult to see how a thinly-veiled criticism of the collective business decisions of an entire industry fits this purpose — especially when those criticisms have been obsolete for at least a decade. Never mind that the EFF welcomes the arrival of Spotify — with licenses for the major labels’ music — in the US. When it comes to the EFF’s view of record labels, it seems to be “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

References   [ + ]

1. See, for example, Sue Zeidler, New Music Goes on Sale Online, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, pg 5, Sept. 8, 1997.

10 Comments

  1. The EFF has had a hard-on for the music industry since their inception.
    Maybe they are all failed musicians who got denied a record deal, and held a grudge to epic proportions…?
    More likely they’re the lobbying arm of Google, who wants all content to be free, so they can make an extra 4 billion a quarter.

  2. In my experience the great majority of digital albums are also available as individual tracks, but there are exceptions. But I hazzard a guess that these won’t be on Spotify either.

  3. Pingback: The Perceived Value of Music | This Kelly Carpenter

  4. “Forced to buy full-length CDs at $15.99”? LOL! What do they think it is, 1999?

    I think for the full experience of Spotify, you need the Premium level plan. This lets you use the Spotify app on your iPhone (or whatever you have). You can download up to 3,333 songs for offline listening, or even stream Spotify through your data plan or wifi. The downloading is perfect for me so I can listen in my car offline without having to worry about signal loss or burning through my limited data plan. So far I’ve been impressed with the catalog. There’s a few things I’ve wanted that they didn’t have, but then again there’s a bunch of stuff there that I didn’t even know I wanted. Wirelessly syncing my iPhone to Spotify over wifi is a nice touch. Spotify doesn’t handle podcasts well, but I can always switch over to iTunes to listen to those. So far, I’m super impressed.

  5. Well, was Trouser Press in Spotify’s catalogue?

    • Yes it was, as was most of Bonzo’s work. That was the first time I’d heard their music.

  6. Nice slip up by EFF there. They’d like to pretend they’re not pro-piracy and anti-musician/labels, but we all know the truth there, don’t we? ;>

  7. I’m a little surprised at the EFF too, but then, it is after all lawyers & tech folks probably around my age who grew up in archaic times. Even innovators can miss the forest for the trees.

    That said, I was a kid when the Canadian government imposed the metric system on me. It made no sense for me to bother with conversions; it was much easier just to learn the new numbers. milk comes in litres, we travel this many kilometres and 20°Celcius is Tshirt weather, 0°C freezes water.

    So for me, I look at music the same way. Why bother converting? I can get the good old stuff cheap, and instead of bothering with new RIAA/CRIA offerings, I buy my music direct from the artists. Why bother with spotify when I can find great new music on Jamendo? Indie music has arrived.

    • I am unaware of anyone being _forced_ to buy a CD.

      People CHOSE – and some, including myself still choose – to buy CDs. Many of them complain about the price, then bring the CD up to the cash register and buy it. This means that they thought that particular CD was worth the money – otherwise, by definition, they wouldn’t have bought it. This is an example of what economists call “revealed preference” – you can learn more from what people do than what they say.

      Many people in the technology community have also revealed a preference for pirating music instead of paying for it – that’s why the streaming subscription services before Spotify haven’t done that well.

      But the EFF plays to its audience.

  8. The EFF is shameless.

    There’s really nothing more that needs to be said.

    • I don’t really like the first half of their article very much. Besides what was said here, am I the only one who thinks it’s not ridiculous to be “forced” to buy a full length C.D. if you want to listen to some music? Its what we were doing throughout most of the nineties to my recollection and its your right as a rights holder to utilize the business model you deem most successful even when it doesn’t satisfy every potential customer’s desires.

      However the second half concerning the differences between a music subscription service and a traditional downloading service like iTunes is a somewhat noble message trying to raise consumer awareness. Could’ve done without the snarky “legally or not” comment though.