SPOTIFY An Analysis of Spotify’s Market Strategies

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SPOTIFY An Analysis of Spotify’s Market Strategies
An Analysis of Spotify’s
Market Strategies
Spotify is a Swedish online music streaming service that was launched in 2008. Since, its launch
Spotify has had a meteoric rise and currently boasts a library of around 15 million music tracks and
about 20 million users. Though Spotify still lags behind Pandora, the market leader, it is interesting to
understand how Spotify managed to succeed in the competitive music streaming industry. The following
report will start off by giving a brief overview of the music industry, Spotify’s features and the
competition Spotify faces. We will then analyze how Spotify managed to succeed in the competitive
music streaming industry. Finally, we will discuss the risks Spotify faces and future strategies it could
undertake in continuing its success in the online music streaming industry.
The digital music industry can be divided into two submarkets: the streaming market with numerous
competitors and the digital download market dominated by iTunes and Amazon. Digital music industry
revenues have grown by 8% in 2011 reaching a valuation of $5.2 billion. Currently the streaming market
only generates 10% of digital music industry revenue but the growth rate of this market is greater than
the growth rate of the download market.
Competition within the streaming industry is very strong as many companies operate in this market with
similar business models. Companies differentiate from one another with variations in packaging, licensed
music libraries, regions of operation, and features. Switching costs are quite high for customers as there is
limited compatibility and transfer possible between streaming services. Moreover, streaming companies
are trying to create network effects among their services by including social components. Several services
allow people to follow what their friends are listening to and also allow users to create collaborative
playlists. This network effect can attract more customers to a service as it adds value to the product.
Record labels are natural and essential partners for streaming companies and thus the market has strong
indirect network effects. Content availability is fundamental to attracting customers: the larger the music
library, the more the streaming service is likely to become popular. The streaming industry is thus as a
two-sided market: companies must be able to create a virtuous circle between record labels and
customers. The more users and subscribers a service has, the more record labels will want to have their
music available on those services and subsequently, a greater number of customers will be attracted by
the large library available. Though obtaining streaming rights to a large library is a key factor in the
success of a streaming service, differentiating their product by implementing different features remains a
primary tactic in gaining market share.
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Spotify is a music streaming service started in Sweden that offers DRM streaming of licensed music.
Spotify currently has more than 18 million users, up from 10 million users after their United States launch.
The service requires users to have a Facebook account to use and is split into 3 different product
categories: Free, Unlimited, and Premium. Free users are trial periods given to initial registrants for 6
months for them to evaluate the service, after which they restrict music listening to 10 hours per month.
Unlimited users are able to stream music without advertisements or restrictions as well as listen to music
offline, but only on their computers. The Premium service extends the Unlimited service to mobile devices
such as iPods and Smartphones. Users have the ability to see what their friends are listening to via
Facebook integration and are able to generate collaborative playlists with them as well. Users are able
to set up ‘radio stations’ where based on their music libraries, Spotify finds songs that it thinks users would
most enjoy. Spotify has no standard web-interface but requires users to download a Spotify application
to their computers/devices. Currently Spotify is available in US, UK, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Finland,
Norway, Spain, France, Germany, and Denmark.
While physical music product markets are deteriorating rapidly, online digital music markets are
becoming ever more congested and competitive. Over a dozen large internet music companies across the
world are competing for market takeover while hundreds of smaller companies are attempting to
become major players in the industry. One thing every company has in common is their segmented region
support and fragmented music licenses which is something that Spotify is trying to overcome with their
recent launch in the United States and continued support in the many European countries.
The easy adaptation of features by other companies makes it difficult for competing firms to strongly
differentiate from one another. For example Grooveshark gives users the ability to upload their songs
and create their playlists from their existing libraries when Spotify replicated this mechanic for songs that
it had licences to. While Spotify has had fast growth in paid subscriptions and total users, Pandora sits
comfortably as the king of the hill recently hitting 125 million users in January 2012 up from 100 million
just 6 months prior despite being a service only available in the United States and whose primary source
of revenue is advertisements from free users who account for roughly 98% of all users and 87% of
annual revenue. Spotify’s response to Pandora is to have radio stations with ‘unlimited skips’ that also
aims to find music that users would enjoy as well as listen to any of those songs on demand all offered at
very similar pricing. Spotify is attempting to differentiate themselves from other companies by having
Facebook integration and incorporating social interaction with music via playlist sharing. No other internet
music companies require a Facebook account so this tactic is a double-edged sword for Spotify as it
brings with it all of the benefits of social media incorporation but the disadvantages of shutting out any
users without Facebook accounts. One of the advantages that Pandora, Grooveshark, Deezer, and
Rhapsody have is that no social media accounts are required for their use and makes them popular with
older demographics.
Additionally, services like Pandora, Deezer, and Grooveshark do not sell songs directly from their
sites but redirect their users to iTunes or Amazon for purchases. But Spotify has incorporated the ability to
purchase these songs from their partnered company, 7digital, directly from their program following in the
footsteps of Rhapsody. Spotify’s premium service is very similar to Rhapsody because users are able to
listen to their music offline without purchasing the songs and both employ their own DRM’s to ensure
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security of the songs. While the consumer market demand is differentiated in products, the ease with
which features are copied makes region support and music library licensing more effective in gaining
market share.
As discussed in the ‘Music Industry’ section, Spotify has a two-sided market to deal with – on one side
there are the consumers and on the other, the music providers.
At its outset, Spotify thus had to solve the coordination problem in this two sided market. A streaming
platform without a sizeable amount of quality music would be of little use to consumers. Spotify thus
attempted to solve the coordination problem by subsidizing music labels and artists by providing them
lucrative contracts to provide their music on Spotify. Once, music labels and artists started providing music
on Spotify, Spotify started attracting consumers to the platform. Spotify aimed to collect revenue from
the consumers by charging them with a subscription fee for listening to music on Spotify. However, before
users subscribed to the new streaming platform, Spotify had to allow users to get a chance to experience
Spotify and get locked in to the service. Hence, a limited free version of the service was provided along
with the unlimited subscription based version. Spotify’s attempt to solve this coordination problem brought
on board music labels such as Sony Music, EMI, Universal Music Group, Warner Music, Merlin and The
Orchard. These labels and smaller artists have added more than 15 million tracks to Spotify. The huge
collection of music on this rather easy-to-use platform attracted more than 18 million users and has led to
about 3 million subscriptions – a conversion rate of about 1 subscription for every 6 users. Thus, by
subsidizing music labels and artists Spotify brought a large quantity of quality music to its easy-to-use
platform and managed to solve the coordination problem in its two-sided market.
Having solved the coordination problem in its two-sided market, Spotify worked on maximizing its profits
in the online music streaming industry.
Spotify’s strategies seem to suggest that the company has been carefully versioning and bundling
their product to maximize profits. Spotify initially provided only its Free version along with a Premium
version. The Free version, allowed 10 hours of free music streaming a month for new users. It basically
served as a means to attract new subscriptions. The Premium version, provided users with unlimited music
streaming on computers and portable devices. The Premium version could be seen as a bundled product
that tried to clump the computer-based users and the portable devices-based users together. However, in
2010 Spotify introduced another version – the Unlimited version, which provided the same features as the
Premium version but only on computers. Spotify thus introduced a mixed bundling approach where it not
only provided a bundled Premium version but also a pure Unlimited version. Interestingly, Spotify did not
introduce a pure version targeting the market segment only interested in Spotify on portable devices.
Spotify has thus been carefully identifying various market segments and providing a mix of bundled as
well as pure products in an attempt to increase profits.
Spotify has also been attempting to increase its revenue by attracting new customers currently locked in
to its competitors’ products. It has been attempting to do this by reducing the cost of switching to Spotify
and increasing the value of its own product.
Spotify has been reducing the cost of switching from its competitors’ product by providing applications
that imitate the working of its competitors’ key features. For example, Spotify introduced a Radio
application to closely mimic a key feature of its main competitor, Pandora. The Radio application
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generates a random playlist of songs for a user based on an entered preference for an artist or genre.
This feature is similar to the working of Pandora that generates random stations for a user to listen to
based on an entered preference for an artist or genre. By providing features similar to those found in its
competitors Spotify has made it easier for users to switch to Spotify. Spotify has also reduced switching
costs for users by developing robust Spotify applications for various platforms – iOS, Android, Windows.
There is a variety of online music streaming users. Some users use the iOS platform on all their devices,
some use Windows or Android and others use a mixture of the operating systems for their devices. If
Spotify had developed applications for only some of these operating systems, users on other operating
systems would face huge switching costs in adopting Spotify. By developing robust applications for most
operating systems, we believe Spotify has greatly reduced the cost of switching for potential users and
has thus made the product more attractive. These attempts at reducing switching costs have made it
easier for Spotify to make inroads into its competitors’ market share and increase its profits.
Spotify significantly increased its user and subscription base when it signed an agreement with
Facebook to make it compulsory for anyone trying to access Spotify to have a Facebook account. Though
this move may have cause Spotify to sideline some potential users who did not have Facebook accounts, it
proved highly beneficial in some other aspects. Tying up with Facebook, added a direct network to the
usage of Spotify to make the product more valuable. The direct network effect added to Spotify can be
interpreted as follows. Spotify users can now create playlists and share it with their friends on Facebook.
With a greater number of users on Spotify, there would thus be a greater utility for the users of Spotify
as it allows them to access more playlists. A direct network effect has thus been added to the usage of
Spotify, making it more valuable to users. When this valuable product was brought to the notice of
Facebook’s 900 million strong user base, usage and subscriptions of Spotify sky-rocketed. Initial estimates
showed that around 250,000 users were added to Spotify every day, for a few days following the deal.
After solving its coordination problem, Spotify has carefully worked on versioning its product, reducing
switching costs involved in using its product and making its product more valuable through integration with
social media. We believe these sound strategies allowed Spotify to rise quickly to become an important
player in the online music streaming industry. However, Spotify should not become complacent. It must
keep formulating new strategies in order to consolidate and possibly even expand its strong position in
the market.
Spotify’s business model consists of a few risks: copyrights, privacy, and hacking. First, Spotify lacks
strict and explicit copyright policies. Although Spotify has a stable and innovative model, because it does
not hold a clear intellectual property on its structure and contents, it is difficult for Spotify to keep its
competitors from copying their business and operation model. Therefore, this risk prevents Spotify from
keeping its competitive advantage in the market as it allow for more competitors to enter the market with
low innovation cost. Furthermore, because this music streaming industry (excluding music contents) does not
demand high product variety, this is a crucial risk that threatens Spotify’s success.
Second, when Spotify introduced its new Facebook integration feature, it has also brought about
privacy issues. While Facebook integration is a feature that distinguishes Spotify from other music
streaming businesses, it also makes Spotify face the same problem Facebook experiences: user privacy.
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Facebook integration allowed Spotify to take advantage of network effects that Facebook already
possesses, but this also caused any Facebook friend of a user to be able to monitor his/her music taste.
Although there are customization features that address this problem, it is hard for the users to manage
this well as there are many problems with Facebook privacy model itself.
Lastly, as number of user increases, there is risk of negative externality. As Spotify becomes more
popular, there are several attempts for the hackers to spread viruses through Spotify. What makes
Spotify a target over other streaming services is that they deter their bandwidth costs by employing
peer-to-peer uploads. While this vulnerability to hacking is a minor problem for other popular web
based business without peer-to-peer connections, and in case of Spotify it spreads with a click of the play
button. Spotify administrators should work hard on this in order to preserve its reputation and customers
or decide to disable peer-to-peer supplemented bandwidth.
In spite of all of these weaknesses and threats, Spotify is a growing business that many investors are
looking into. With wider adoption of smartphone, Spotify's market seems as though it will enlarge
significantly. Especially with its offline feature with premium purchase, Spotify's attractive model of "mp3
at hand" with virtually endless amount of contents will allow more users to utilize its services. Some
independent investors predict that the user pool of Spotify will even surpass iTunes in 2 years with static
growth of the industry. While this prediction seems excessive as music streaming industry has a great
room for innovation, such opinion captures a good essence of expected growth in Spotify's business with
high network effect (especially through Facebook) and superior quality (smartphone application function
as described above).
Spotify has multiple options for future strategies. It can improve its “like-based” radio stations,
partner with other distribution channels, leverage its network effects, and open up its services. It should
continue to use its current successful strategies such as bundling and lowering switching costs from
One of Spotify’s main competitors is Pandora. Spotify has introduced a like-based radio station
similar to Pandora’s however Spotify’s algorithms are not of the same quality. One possible strategy for
improving Spotify’s algorithms may be crowdsourcing; Spotify can offer a bounty to whoever develops a
more efficient algorithm just like Netflix did for its own algorithms. This allows Spotify to improve its
services while not having to use its own resources (other than money).
Another option for Spotify is to partner with other distribution channels. A large amount of music is
listened to in the car; Spotify could partner with car companies to develop a Sirius radio type Spotify
service that streams a user’s personalized library to their car. Spotify can also join a party competing in
the war for the living room by partnering to add its service to their device. Spotify has begun to do this in
Europe, partnering with Sonos to allow premium subscribers to stream songs in any room of their home
through Sonos MultiRoom Music System and offering a similar service with Telia in Finland allowing
customers to use Spotify through their TV set.
Another possible, yet perhaps more risky strategy is to open the platform beyond Facebook. Some
potential users do not use Facebook as they may be concerned with privacy issues or just not value the
service and therefore will not use Spotify. Facebook should still be a big part of Spotify as it serves their
application to a large network of people. Spotify may also want to consider opening its mobile services
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to all users. Being unable to use Spotify on mobile devices without paying for the premium service allows
competitors with free mobile applications, such as Pandora, to have a substantial advantage. As more
and more people rely on their “all-in-one” mobile devices Spotify is missing out on potential customers.
These strategies may be risky as it is difficult to forecast the change in total users and premium users
should Spotify adopt these strategies.
By pursuing these strategies Spotify should be able to increase its user base and network. This will
lead to more artists and producers wanting their content on Spotify and allow Spotify to expand its
catalogue which in turn will attract more users. Pursuing these indirect network effects is another strategy
which Spotify should keep in mind when considering what to do next in this two sided market.
Digital streaming is a rapidly growing industry. The industry has many players and competition is
fierce. Factors such as network effects and two-sided markets make the fight to get the most users of
instrumental importance. Spotify should continue to capitalize on the network it has built with Facebook
and other advantages that are difficult for its competitors to adapt to. Spotify has shown itself capable
of being an industry leader in its solution to the coordination problem and its ability to attract new users.
But does have several risks it must watch out for such as hacking and privacy concerns. Spotify, like its
competitors, must continue to innovate and use proper strategy to stay in the market. As it stands now
Spotify is in a very competitive position in the industry and looks to remain successful in the future.
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