Why am I so energised by the culture of ownership, DRM, and interoperability?  Heaven only knows but every press release or feature I read about Spotify sparks something in my head.

I have issues with the service - a whole raft of them.  Had Spotify launched 10 years ago I suspect my views would be wholly different.  it would have been  the official, legal, alternative to Napster and the music industry's antidote to file sharing. But now, a decade on from Napster in the age of broadband I'm suspicious of motives. 

It doesn't help when Spotify come out with comments like:

"We want to hand out consumer data we have to give to labels so they can target consumers better and communicate better."


 Their privacy policy appears fine until you get to 7:

"Spotify reserves the right to make changes to this Privacy Policy. If we make any material changes to this policy we will notify you by posting the new version of the policy on the Spotify Website. It is your own responsibility to check the website for such postings from time to time."

I've never liked how they barely mention that it is (partly) supported by p2p - the default is to take up to 10% of your hard drive space (with encrypted / obscured data you can't access). A service that uses your storage and bandwidth should be very explicit about this.

Almost everything the music industry has done since Napster has been 1 step forward and 2 steps back.  They gave us legal downloads but wrapped them in DRM, which meant us consumers never actually 'owned' the music, just a licence to play them.  The brief dalliance with copy protection on compact discs just hammered home the point - we weren't to be trusted.  We would copy and share our music willy if not nilly, all of us, unless we were prevented.  

The downloads we were allowed were initially crappy quality 128 kbps in either DRM wrapped AAC or WMA and we could only play them on specific, licenced devices.

The faith between consumer and industry broke then and I suspect that whatever happens now this cannot be mended, Spotify or no Spotify.

The industry can't adapt now and it is dying.  Too late.  A generation now expects content for free,  That seems to include music.  That's the fault of the music industry as much as individual greed and that other Swedish based service.

I'm a music fan.  I want to reward the artists and the producers financially, not the industry or the labels.   I want to do it fairly but on my terms as part of an appreciative audience not as a consumer.  

The income distribution model for Spotify is (almost certainly - I don't know the breakdown) weighted in similar if not worse distribution of profit to previous industry models, not that there is any sign that Spotify is profitable or will be in the immediate future. 

So when Spotify announce improvements to the service, like this weeks 'offline' mode (for paid subscribers only) I'm still not interested.

I want to own my music.  I don't want a subscription (unless real ownership is an element) - and many don't, even the Pirate Bay generation.  A survey of 14-24 years olds in August 2009 conducted by the University of Hertfordshire revealed:

  • 78% do not want to pay for a streaming service. (the vast majority of Spotify users are on the free, ad supported model)
  • 87% say the ability to copy tracks across devices is important
  • 89% still want to 'own' music. 

Offline support in Spotify doesn't address this, at least for me.  At least it highlights the local cacheing which has always been there.  They've just tweaked the program to allow us to access it.  With limitations of course.  

Charles Arthur in the Guardian has rightly addressed this DRM issue.  As he points out, it may not be DRM as we technically know it, but in effect it is the same.  I accept that a service allowing 3,333 'downloads' on a £10/month subscription is unworkable if you could terminate your subs after a month and have a plethora of music on your computer, but this just highlights the problem of a subscription.  You can't access the offline files without the Spotify client (and presumably even offline mode wouldn't work after a while without being able to check online that your subscription is active).

So, we're still in a subscription model with no ownership element (an element which is  crippled by onerous music industry conditions if eMusic's decline is anything to go by).

I've made the point before that a subscription service is a temporary one.  It's ok for tv and movies if you have no intention (or desire) for repeat viewing but for music my library is too important to me.  It is backed up locally and offsite.  I don't want to lose it. 

In a subscription service I don't have that assurance.  If Spotify closes down, so does my access to 'their' music.  If they change their terms of service (or the price is hiked beyond reason) I'm stranded.  If I decided to go with Spotify for 2 or 3 years my subscription costs would be a significant investment in something that could disappear at any time.

The free streaming element of Spotify is interesting as a different way of accessing music but not compelling for the same reasons and even this is not sustainable.  The (allegedly temporary) suspension of new free accounts on Spotify in the UK to an invite only model is perhaps an early indication that this is not intended to be a freemium service in the long term.  The Register has had a long look at the business model which backs this up.

So what do I want? Lower prices of downloads - of the online stores 7Digital appear to have the most competitive deals with many new albums at £5 each at a reasonable (if not ideal) 320kbps MP3  - but I want similar pricing across ALL music.  Options for interoperable lossless formats.  Assurance that a significant portion of my money is going to the artists and producers.   If there has to be a subscription element to it then some ownership is required.  It is a two way street after all.