Friday, February 11, 2011

Why librarians need to think hard about Spotify

Have you ever heard of Spotify? I think this service might be the harbinger of the death of music purchasing. Other articles I’ve read point to as THE company that has Apple’s iTunes people worried. Here is a good description of the service.!5502815/why-its-worth-getting-excited-for-spotifys-us-launch

I am curious as to what the library field thinks about this service (and others that may come along.) and the impact this might have on library collections of music.

Here is how I see things might evolve. With Spotify coming to the United State later this year, music listeners will be able to get free accounts to stream millions of free music tracks. With a few notable exceptions this will include all of the major labels. Listeners will be able to play and replay these tracks on demand as often as they like. This really distinguishes Spotify from other music streaming sites such as Pandora.

The service is free but the quality is inferior to purchased music on CDs or purchased on iTunes The record labels are reimbursed partly through advertising. But most of the company’s profits will come from premium subscriptions where paid subscribers get better sound quality. They can also download their tracks to their mobile devices and thus play music even when they are not connected to the Internet.

So how does this affect library service offerings? I may be old fashion but I have had problems with public funds being spent to give away free music using the Freegal model. It's nice to get free music. But there is no community resource. I could accomplish the same thing by purchashing iTunes gift cards and giving them away to my patrons. In fact, I think to do that might be cheaper than Freegal.

With my patrons able to access music from Spotify without any cost, I have a greater problem giving public funds to Freegal since the only difference seems to be the right to download and keep copy. The free Spotify accounts can only listen online, so access is more limited, but it certainly is hard to justify buying music for people to copy for free in today’s tight budget picture.

Some might argue that our traditional CDs are being taken home and copied by our patrons and we would be stepping away from this use of our collections. Well our patrons cannot do this legally. They can make copies of music they buy, but not music they borrow from the library. I am kind of relieved to know that I might be able to step away from abetting criminal behavior by abandoning the purchase of physical CDs.

Others may argue that Freegal and traditional library collections can be accessed ad free. True! But we don’t seem to have trouble offering periodic literature with ads ( a.k.a. magazines).

I am playing the devil’s advocate here. There are real differences in how we as libraries help our patrons bridge the digital divide, but if a growing majority of our patrons can access more music more easily with more functionality (e.g. playlists) than by use of library purchased music collection, we will see use of our collections drop.

My library’s community is not rich, but 60% of residents have access to broadband Internet service. When that saturation rate reaches 80% or 90% and other “in the cloud” music vendors are also giving away all of the world’s music for free how can we justify significant purchases of music for what may become a very small population.

We’ve heard pundits talk about how in the future we will see the demise of physical media. We know that it is coming. Spotify may be the fast track to that future.


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