Spotify Moves to Withhold Albums from Free Subscribers

In recent months the tension in the Spotify headquarters must have risen to critical level. First there was Taylor Swift, the queen of pop, who first refused to release her chart dominating 1989 album on Spotify, citing that the streaming service did not fairly pay artists for their work. Now in recent months, the world’s biggest artist Adele likewise refused to release her insanely hyped third album 25 on the service, just as Coldplay likewise refused to allow their recent album Head Full of Dreams to be streamed.

Spurred by this trio of toxic boycotts, it seems Spotify is considering changing their policy to lure back some of the world’s biggest artists. Currently, Spotify’s policy dictates no difference in content between their free and paid service. Wall Street Journal is reporting that they will soon move to restrict content for the free service, so albums from artists such as Taylor Swift will only be available to paid subscribers. Back in November, The Verge reported that this model is exactly what Adele asked for when releasing 25 and was denied. Adele has since come forward and blamed the lack of streaming on her old fashioned nature and desire to keep her music in traditional forms.

Although the sources are not explicit in the Wall Street Journal article, if it were true, it would be a major back down for the world’s biggest streaming service. It wouldn’t be the first time Taylor Swift has single handedly prompted a major reform for streaming services, after Apple Music reformed their policy that artists would not be paid for any albums streamed in the 3 month trial period.

While these artists claim that their boycott of streaming services is an altruistic move to support paying artists properly for their work, it is increasingly becoming a weapon for chart success. Taylor Swift dominated the 2014 charts with 1989, with many arguing that the lack of free streaming meant that far more people would have bought the album than if it were available on streaming services. The same can be said for Adele, who absolutely shattered first week sales records. On a small scale, streaming may in fact have helped these global artists, as streaming has decimated the illegal downloading market with most people relying on cheap and easy streaming services. Yet once this is unavailable for certain albums, it may be that people head back to legal means of purchasing albums rather than downloading illegally – leading to even greater album sales. Studies seems to suggest something similar, with streaming not really helping nor hindering the music industry generally.

Yet for those smaller artists who would gain nothing from boycotting their albums from Spotify, they must continue to rely on paltry album sales and embark on more frequent tours as the music industry continues to morph under technological change.

EDIT: Since publishing this piece, we’ve been asked to add in this statement from Spotify:

We are 100 percent committed to our model because we believe that a free, ad-supported tier combined with a more robust premium tier is the best way to deliver music to fans, create value for artists and songwriters, and grow the industry. In that context, we explored a wide range of promotional options for the new Coldplay album and ultimately decided, together with management, that Coldplay and its fans would best be served with the full album on both free and premium this Friday. – Jonathan Prince, Spotify’s Global Head of Communications and Public Policy.