Spotify: An Analysis

For my Digital and Media Literacy class, our assignment for the week was to perform a mini-analysis of any digital app. I chose Spotify, a Swedish audio streaming and media services provider. I love music and I prefer Spotify over other music apps for its large catalog, student bundle, playlist recommendations, unified app experience, and its annual Spotify wrapped they release every December. Without further ado, let’s jump in!

Spotify was founded 15 years ago in Stockholm, Sweden by Daniel Ekm, former CTO of Stardoll, and Martin Lorentzon, co-founder of Tradedoubler. Originally, it was created to solve the problem of music piracy. It is the world’s largest music streaming service with over 381 million monthly active users, including 172 million paying subscribers, and is currently available in over 180 countries. In 2021, the company had revenue of $9 billion. Its subsidiaries include Spotify AB, Spotify USA Inc., Spotify Ltd, and Tencent Music.

Spotify offers digital music and podcasts, including more than 70 million songs. It’s what’s known as a “freemium” service. With the Spotify free plan, listeners can access all playlists, artists, and albums, but only while in Shuffle Play mode. For example, if you want to listen to “Easy on Me” by Adele, you’ll have to press shuffle on her album 30 and hope that song comes on first. Listeners are forced to hear 30 seconds of advertisements every few songs, as well. In order to access additional features and complete control, a subscription has to be purchased.

Listeners are encouraged to explore new music through a “Discover Weekly” playlist tailored to existing music tastes. They are also able to create their own unlimited number of playlists, one for every mood, and share it with their friends via multiple social and messaging platforms. Through Spotify’s streaming service, users can easily listen to whatever music they’d like on their phone, desktop, or tablet, discouraging users from illegally pirating their favorite songs and costing the music industry money.

Over half of Spotify’s user base is under the age of 35 years old, with 26% of them under the age of 24. Surprisingly, the next largest demographic is seniors, with 19% of the user base over the age of 55. Young people are targeted specifically, but the benefits apply to all ages. With Spotify premium, music can be downloaded to be listened to without an internet connection, nonstop music can be enjoyed without ad interruptions, and any song can be played at any time. Spotify, both free and premium, can be accessed using the Spotify apps for Windows, iOS, iPhone, Android, Roku, Smart TV, PlayStation 3 and 4, and Linux.

Spotify has also had its fair share of criticism, with one of the largest being unsustainable compensation towards artists. Unlike physical sales, which pay artists a fixed amount per song or album sold, Spotify pays royalties based on their market share, or the number of streams for their songs as a proportion of total songs streamed on the service. Spotify distributes about 70% of its total revenue to rightsholders, who will then pay artists based on their individual agreements. Translation: Spotify does not pay its artists directly. Instead, Spotify pays the record label, which will pay the distributor and the artist. Approximately, Spotify pays .00437 cents per stream. Worldwide, over 30,000 musicians have joined the organization UnionOfMusicians (UMAW) and its campaign #JusticeAtSpotify to demand more transparency and compensation of one cent per stream.

Just this month, 270 scientists, physicians, professors, doctors, and healthcare workers wrote an open letter to Spotify to establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation by podcasters on its platform. They were motivated by the “false and societally harmful assertions” on Joe Rogan’s podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience. There’s also concern about Spotify tracking users. Similar to social media platforms, the app tracks every song played, playlist created, and podcast listened to by each user. Spotify then uses this data to help drive the advertising it sells. However, the company’s privacy policy also states it can get cookie data, IP addresses, the type of device listeners use, their browser type, operating system, and information about devices on the listeners’ wifi network. Creepy.

Little can be done to completely protect your privacy. As it seems to be the case with everything these days, listening to Spotify requires some give and take. Are the benefits worth the risk? I’ve made the personal decision that they are, but whether you’ll download Spotify is completely up to you.


Jordan Price

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