Asian rollout of ‘freemium’ music streaming service begins with Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong
Boasts of 20 million songs, 24 million active users and six million paying subscribers
THE popular 'freemium' music-streaming service Spotify is now available in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, having launched at noon today (April 16).
The service comes in two flavors – a free, ad-supported version for desktops; and a Premium version with enhanced sound quality for RM14.90 a month that allows users to take their music wherever they go, across multiple devices and offline too.
“We know that Spotify fans from this part of the world have been waiting a long time and have been clamoring for it,” says Sriram Krishnan, its head of New Markets, Asia Pacific, in a pre-launch interview with Digital News Asia (DNA) last week.
“Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong are great stepping stones to the rest of Asia for obvious reasons – the indie scene here is very healthy and Facebook penetration is very high
“I’m employed out of Hong Kong, I’ve lived in Singapore before and I’m a Malaysian – how about that?” he adds enthusiastically.
If there is a feeling that much ‘Kool-Aid’ was consumed during this interview, it’s no wonder – Sriram was working at another company when he signed up for a beta account with Spotify on March 4, 2007. He loved it so much that he was unofficially evangelizing the service long before the company finally hired him in 2011.
“We tell (co-founder) Daniel Ek that you have 700 employees, and all of us were fans first,” he chuckles.
Spotify is probably the most successful music streaming service globally, with over 24 million active users and over six million paying subscribers. It has a catalogue of 20 million songs, and has paid off US$500 million to investors since it launched.
Essential to its service is the ability to create playlists and share them with friends. “The mixed tape concept isn’t dead – it has effectively become the playlist, which is central to the Spotify experience,” says Sriram (pic).
The playlist feature allows users to compile and categorize the songs they have, say according to mood, etc.
“Music is essentially social, so the next step is sharing what you’ve got – you want to know what your friends are listening to, what your favorite artistes are listening to?
“We have amazing integration with Facebook – if you click on your Facebook friend’s profile, it will take you to their playlist page so you know what they recommend and what they’re sharing. If you like someone’s playlist, you can also subscribe to it.
“Everyone can be a taste-maker – and who are the best influencers? Your friends!” says Sriram.
“The other very cool feature is that you’re able to carry this music offline (with a Premium subscription). You can cache your songs so you can listen to them anytime,” he adds.
Recognizing that while some users already know what they like and want to listen to, others may want to discover new music, when users first join, they are given a list of other people they may want to follow – famous personalities, celebrities and artistes included – as well as their friends.
“Having so many songs in the database is great; it’s amazing – I mean, 20 million songs is a lot. But having the tools that enable you to discover and search for music is important, and we use social media to do that,” says Sriram.
Users will also be automatically notified if the playlists they are following – whether from their friends or favorite artists – are updated with new tracks.
A ‘Radio’ allows users to create their own ‘stations,’ based on any artiste, song, album, playlist or genre.
Third-party partners have also created a series of Spotify apps, such as TuneWiki, which scrolls the lyrics for whatever songs you’re listening to; The Guardian with its music news and reviews; Songkick, which features concert listings based on users’ listening history and favorite artistes; and others.
More convenient than piracy
Another key driver for Spotify is piracy. The three Asian countries it is launching in – bringing the total number of markets where Spotify is available to 23 – has a very big music piracy market, though perhaps less so in Singapore.
“We’ve got a service that is more convenient than piracy,” says Sriram. “Piracy is our main competitor. Now, if you have a platform that gives you 20 million songs for free, on any device – what are you going to do?
“We remove people from piracy, which is why recording labels, collecting societies and publishers are the biggest fans of our service – they want us to hurry up and roll out in even more markets,” he adds.
Indeed, one of Spotify’s biggest backers is Sean Parker of Napster fame. In an event much publicized by US media, Parker and Lars Ulrich of Metallica – the band sometimes unfairly characterized as having sued Napster out of business – buried the hatchet last December to announce the metal band was putting its entire catalog on Spotify.
“We’re in a different niche from Napster, which was a file-sharing service which incidentally many people used to obtain pirated music,” says Sriram.
“Napster was a groundbreaking service, and legal or not legal, they started a revolution – we’re focusing on our evolution, which is to provide an amazing kick-ass music streaming service across all devices.
“Our main priority is to combat piracy – if you ask our founder (Ek), it is our mandate. It is part of our DNA – we want music to be consumed in a fair and legal way that will benefit everyone,” he adds.
So what took Spotify so long to launch in this market?
“Our long-term aim is to launch in every market – at the end of the day, we want to be everywhere,” says Sriram.
“But acquiring the relevant content, being relevant to every user in the world, takes time. We’ve been taking our time to build the right service. We take great pride in launching the service with the most relevant and comprehensive content and catalog.
“We want to ensure the service is relevant in every market, and we can’t do this for 183 countries at once,” he adds. “Having said that though, I think the timing’s great to roll out in these markets.”
Spotify does not break down user numbers by market, and Sriram said the company is not setting targets on how many markets it should be available in by the end of the year. “We will launch in a market only when we’re convinced that we have an amazing product for that particular market.”
But he was upbeat on the possible take-up in the three new countries, adding that the company realizes that there are many Malaysians who, like him, would have signed up for the service when they were overseas.
“We’re like Skype though – even with the Malaysian rollout, there is no reason for you to transfer your account to a Malaysian one,” he says. “The whole idea is that Spotify makes your music available to you wherever you are in the world.”
Spotify’s ultimate aim is power music – online and offline, from desktops and mobile devices and tablets, to smart TVs and home entertainment systems, as well as in-vehicle systems.
“We want to be the electricity that drives music consumption, whether online or offline,” says Sriram.
He was also sanguine about news reports of the possibility of Apple Inc rolling out an ‘iRadio’ service in the middle of the year.
“We’re for anything that drives the legal consumption of music. But we are an on-demand, all-you-can-eat music service. Radio services do not allow you to listen to the specific songs you like, or share them with your friends.
“We’re a music streaming service with the largest music catalogue. We’re the best in class as far as user experience is concerned. We only look at how we can continuously improve on all this – we don’t really look at other services, to be completely honest.
“Like I said, our No 1 competitor is piracy,” he adds.
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