Spotify Launches Free Mobile Music Service

by , Dec 11, 2013, 3:01 PM
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As expected, Spotify on Wednesday said it will allow anyone to listen to music free on tablets and other mobile devices. Until now, a free, ad-supported version of the streaming music service has only been available on desktop and laptop computers. Only subscribers paying $10 a month could access the service through mobile devices.

The splashier news Spotify announced at a press event today was that Led Zeppelin, which until now hasn’t licensed its music for streaming, will become part of its catalog.  The New York Times first reported on the deal today prior to the announcement.

Reports of the free mobile service began leaking last week, but on Wednesday, Spotify provided more details on the offering. iPad and Android tablet users can now get the same ad-supported service Spotify offers on the desktop, with the ability to play any song on demand and create playlists.

Tablet users can also use its shuffle feature for any playlist or to specific artist’s catalog.

For smartphone owners, the experience will focus on the shuffle feature. iPhone and Android mobile users will be able to shuffle play their playlists and the catalog of a particular artist, but won’t have access to all music on-demand as on tablets and the desktop freemium offering.

Spotify’s shuffle is similar to that of Pandora and other online radio services, but the company says it offers more control over playlists. If a listener wants to play Lady Gaga, then they’ll hear only that artist and not others in the same genre.

During his presentation, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said shuffle is the most popular way people currently listen to music through the service. But the company indicated the freemium service was extended only to tablets as they have become “the new desktop,” where people spend time building playlists and searching music.

Still, the step to open up access further on mobile devices overall reflects Spotify’s efforts to accelerate growth in the face of heightened competition. Last year, it introduced its own Internet radio service for free and paid users to better compete with the likes of Pandora and iHeartRadio.

Since then, Apple has joined the fray with iTunes Radio, and Google with its All Access music service. Another competitor, Rdio, introduced a free mobile service in November. 

To date, Spotify’s revenue has come chiefly from its subscription business. Of its more than 24 million active users, 6 million are paying customers. By getting mobile users to try the service for free, it’s aiming to get millions more to eventually sign up for a full on-demand subscription. At the same time, it’s also opening the door to more ad revenue.

But what Spotify really wants is to maintain mindshare in the increasingly crowded online music landscape, according to Forrester analyst James McQuivey. He points out that music is already a feature in the digital products of many companies, including Apple, Amazon and Google. And the way Amazon, for instance, offers “free” video on-demand for Amazon Prime members, could be extended to music as well.

“Spotify's move this week is not only good product marketing in the present, it's necessary positioning for that future, in which Spotify itself will likely have to become a feature in somebody else's product, or disappear,” observed McQuivey.

Adding Led Zeppelin to its lineup of 20 million tunes should help Spotify in the near term at least given the pent-up demand for streaming music from the legendary rock band. Through the exclusive deal, fans will have access to the full Zeppelin catalog by Dec.15, starting today with its first two albums.

Spotify also announced launching in 20 new markets for a total of 55 worldwide. The company’s latest mobile offerings will be available in all the new markets, which are mainly in South America. Spotify on Wednesday also debuted this video spot on YouTube promoting the mobile products with the tag lines “Music for everyone. Now free everywhere.” 

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