Digital Music is Dead, Long Live Digital Music: The Case for Spotify

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Back in the 1990s, there was Napster. I mean, the original Napster not the shadow of a brand that is part of the Best Buy electronics offering.

Napster effectively eliminated optical media by making people realize that the digital format was the only long-term, effective, space-saving way of having music that was portable.

Sure there were MP3s before Napster, and yes, some people had decent libraries of music that they carried around on their portable MP3 players. But Napster made it mainstream by making it easy for anyone to find any music they wanted and download it.

It was illegal and rightly so. There was no way to monetize the music underground economy and intellectual property belongs to someone. So Napster got sued. A lot.

Someone along the way suggested that perhaps a more amenable for Napster to provide digital media to fans and give the record labels a reach around at the same time was the unlimited music for $9.99/mo. Napster balked saying no one would pay that kind of subscription fee.

The lawsuits became so much that the music service had to shut its doors. In an attempt to resurrect themselves just a year or two later, they finally adopted the music subscription model but it was too little too late.

Other music subscriptions came along such as Rhapsody but never gained any kind of real market share. Rhapsody is still open and charges a monthly fee but it just never gained the traction needed.

Spotify Arrives!

In 2008, a new music service, Spotify, launched in Europe. The model was of the subscription type where consumers could pay a monthly fee for the ability to stream any music in their catalog.

The service gained huge popularity in Europe while consumers in the United States clamored for access. Month after month, year after year, the rumors surfaced that Spotify was preparing their U.S. launch and it never came… until last week.

In the meantime, consumers have been inundated with cloud-based web apps. They use Gmail from the web, Facebook for interactions with friends and family, Twitter for persistent real-time communication. Consumers have lost their desire to want to own their own data, and as such, the droning drumbeat of Spotify in Europe as a music subscription service is now arriving in the U.S. past the tipping point of data ownership needs.

That’s a long way of saying – people don’t care if they own their music anymore if they’ve got everything they need in a music service that doesn’t provide ownership.

The Case for Physical and Owned Digital Media

Through the years, I’ve always been a proponent of having my music in a digital format as opposed to a streaming service. I’d rather buy the album on iTunes or Amazon MP3 and know I have it than just stream it from somewhere.

I’ve wanted to play music on demand and not have to rely on a faux-radio service like Pandora to get it done. I like Pandora. I pay for Pandora. But I can’t listen to the songs I want to on demand as part of their licensing agreement with the labels.

I like having dick-measuring competitions about how big my music library is. The bigger it is, the better I am. I must be a more serious music lover. Or so I’ve felt.

With the ownership model, I could take my music everywhere. Hell, even cars have iPod jacks in them so that 50GB library can be taken on the road. I could go for a run and listen to an assortment of playlists for just such an occasion or I could have my library with me for when I need to drum up an impromptu karaoke song and can’t remember how the song starts.

I thought.

In fact, I thought until last week when Spotify launched in the United States. Now… I don’t care about my digital music library. Every argument for it has been shattered into a million small (yet suitably sharp and jagged and “hope you’re wearing sandals so you don’t cut your feet”) pieces.

Spotify is the Music Messiah

At one point, I thought it was important to take my music with me wherever I go. I still do. Spotify has apps for every major mobile device (and if you don’t have a mobile strategy in anything, you lose) and they all tightly integrate with the web service and related desktop apps for both Windows and Mac. Everything is synced. And you can listen to music offline!

At some point I was very concerned about how big my music library was. I feared a catastrophic data loss that would wipe out my years of music collection, purchasing and playlist assembly. Of course, there were backups but that took forever over a network or to an external hard drive.

Spotify solves this by integrating with all your DRM-free music on iTunes or other music player, importing them, making them available in the cloud or offline. It also eliminates the need to have music library. Who needs a music library when every major label is signed on to provide their catalog to the service. I have the entire music world as my music library. My dick, by definition, is therefore bigger.

But the real killer in Spotify is the ingenious social aspect. Sure, you can have a lot of music. Sure, you can have playlists. Sure, you can have subscription models. Sure, you can have mobile availability.

Spotify put the biggest teenage-era “I love you” method in digital format by allowing the mix tape to be replaced by playlists… that are sharable with someone, some service or the world.

Queue up your Bieber-esque bee-bop feel good technosailor dance-esque songlists… the mix tape has gone digital!

It’s the End of the World as We Know It… And I Feel Fine

Spotify will undoubtedly continue to evolve. Launching in the United States gives them a much larger audience to tap into for feedback and expectations. I would like to see the social integration tighter and more obvious, but all in good time.

Rarely does a game changer come along. A lot of people think they have the game changing app… but it never happens. This is, in fact, the revolution that we’ve been waiting for. I no longer even think about my iTunes library, Amazon MP3 purchasing or other digital media. Everything I need is right there in my dick-sized music library.

Photo by Cerebro Humano

Do Not Lock In To One Device Lest You Kill Your Company

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It’s funny. Comical even. A few weeks ago, I wrote that The iPhone is to Smartphones as IE6 was to Browsers. Most of the readers of that article agreed with me but almost all had a “but, but, but…” argument. This is because the iPhone is one sexy beast to users, even though AT&T can’t seem to support the iPhone, as we also noted.

This is a comical observation because my position was endorsed (if not directly) by Peter-Paul Koch who daintily comments that “[He] will shout at web developers who think that delicately inserting an iPhone up their ass is the same as mobile web development.” He goes on to slam the web development community to catering to the iPhone in the same broken-record way that web developers catered to IE6 ten years ago.

Photo by Matt Buchanan

And adding insult to injury, the Guardian also picked up that story and offered their own ringing endorsement for both Peter-Paul and my perspectives.

I just got off the phone with an unnamed entrepreneur who wants to build a product that, while looking to the future and planning to diversify over a variety of products, looks at Apple’s forthcoming iPad as the launch device. I will offer you the same advice I offered him as well as the same advice I offer to iPhone only products like Gowalla.

If you want to start on the iPad, fine. You better be damn sure you’re ready to diversify quickly. I don’t care if you put it on a non-touch device like, oh I don’t know, the web with a normal browser on a normal computer… do not disenfranchise users. Peter-Paul Koch notes, in the article I linked to above, that the iPhone carries only 15% of the worldwide mobile market. Yet it gets an insane amount of attention as if it was the most important product ever created.

Newsflash… it’s not. It’s not even close.

In fact, it’s still not a business class phone (with rare exception). And in fact, developers continue to ignore other platforms… like the BlackBerry.

Sidenote: It’s okay to have a mobile web interface but don’t lose the forest through the trees. Users will feel like second-hand citizens if you don’t pay attention to their needs.

Mobile developers: Think before you develop only for the iPhone or only for the iPad. Entrepreneurs: Think before you start a company or launch a product made exclusively, or designed with a business model only for the iPhone or the iPad.