Spotify Comes to Italy and I’m Not Impressed

4 minute read

TL; DR

Spotify is a useful service to quickly discover new artists and releases, but even if you pay for it, you are not buying music, you are instead leasing it. They reserve the right to cut your access to music whenever they please. There are many aspects to like of Spotify but if you care about music you should also take care to create a local backup copy of your tracks by obtaining them via more traditional means.

Long Version

Right when I thought this country was destined to be governed by clowns and forgotten by US companies, Spotify finally came to Italy… and I’m not impressed. I admit I’m still using it (heck, I even pay the premium 10€-a-month subscription to use it everywhere) and find it an extremely convenient way to listen to new music, but it’s still fundamentally incompatible with the way I consume music.

After a week long trial period, I would like to point out the aspects I liked the most, before running down with the drawbacks.

  • Huge music catalog: type the name of a song and there you have it, just click “Play”. No need to pull your credit card out, download MP3s or fiddle with proprietary download clients or be forced to launch barely usable applications which have everything and the kitchen sink and slow your computer down. In my experience their HTML5, Android, Linux clients work pretty well out of the box.

  • Cloud sync: No need to manually sync your files between multiple devices since music is stored in the cloud, along with your playlists. Install the player on various devices and your favorite tracks will stream right away.

  • Social music experience: I can peek into my friends’ playlists, be notified when they listen to tracks, send and receive recommendations about new artists and releases and then be able to listen to new music right away without having to even perform a Google search. This is huge, and probably the biggest reason I still use Spotify. I would argue that it’s even better than what Last.FM has been doing until now, mainly because the experience is so smooth it’s not even fun.

  • Easy discovery: expanding on the previous point, there are literally thousands of public playlists I can peek into. Discovering new artists and releases (and being able to listen to them right away) has never been easier.

But here’s the can of worms: Even though I pay for it I don’t actually own any track I listen to, which means I’m actually leasing access to their music repertoire which, in turn, means DRM. DRM means that the music I listen to isn’t stored as MP3s, but in some opaque, encrypted binary format and that I will loose access to it whenever Spotify runs out of business or decides I’m not a customer worth keeping anymore (i.e.: they close my account). They also create a situation where I am depending on them to keep listening to the music. If they raise prices I am essentially forced to pay, because I’m locked in.

This wouldn’t be a problem if we consumed music the same way we do with movies and games. These are usually one-time experiences. You watch a movie or play a game and then forget about it, playing it again and again is more the exception than a rule.

But music is different. Often times I find myself listening to the same album over and over during the week, only to forget it for a while and then come back to it again. For me, music needs to be there, I need to own it. I can’t be at the mercy of an overlord which enforces DRM, controls access to the music I listen to and is able to pull the plug and raise prices on a whim.

Closing Remarks

Turns out they actually offer you to buy downloadable tracks. The catch is that you have to pay for them, even though you are already paying for an expensive subscription. Yes, they make you pay for music twice: once to obtain the privilege to listen to it, once to download it. And no, downloaded files are not DRM-free.

Let’s make some constructive criticism for once: here’s what I think they should do: make older (let’s say, two months old) releases available as DRM-free, high quality (320kbps) MP3 downloads, for subscribers only and for free. Newer releases should still sit behind a paywall.

There is still room for improvements, but these two things alone would go a long way towards making me feel more comfortable using the service.

Here’s my humble, closing, recommendation: if you love music, if music is part of your life as mine, don’t let Spotify be your only source of tunes. Feel free to continue using it but also create a local backup copy of your favorite tunes by obtaining music in a more traditional way (e.g.: by buying tracks from Amazon, 7-digital, iTunes et al.).