Quick Thought: Promoted Posts in Spotify

It’s common knowledge that Spotify isn’t exactly profitable. As avid user, I’ve really liked their latest product introductions: Discover (suggested content from Spotify), Activity (what your friends are listening to), & Direct Artist Following.  With those features and Spotify’s financial struggles in mind, one revenue generating product seems obvious: sponsored content and placements. As we’ve seen with Facebook, it’s much easier to sell advertising inside an algorithmically generated content feed. And with Discover, Spotify has built just that.

Spotify builds a complex profile of your music tastes.  They get the data for that profile from a combination of places: what you listen to, what you add to playlists, what you “like” on Spotify Radio, what your friends and people you follow listen to, etc. So, let’s say I “follow” Justin Timberlake. And listen to his music. And add him to playlists. And on and on. Why doesn’t Spotify sell a placement in my Discover or Activity feed to a similar artist? Preferably, it would be an artist that Spotify’s data shows I will probably like. Or, like Facebook, Spotify should start charging Justin Timberlake to alert me inside Spotify and by email when he releases a new album. That kind of targeted email marketing is incredibly valuable to artists of any stature.

The cherry on top: if done in a clean enough way, promoted/suggested wouldn’t even intrude on user experience. In fact, it could be a genuine value add.

Seems like a layup to me….

P.S. This ad product also allow Spotify to further monetize premium subscribers. It wouldn’t be limited to “free” users.

*** Apologies for grammar, it was a quick thought. I’ll clean it up later***

The Follow Button: Spotify’s Social Experience

I’ve written several times about how important curation is for good media consumption. When media companies pair content libraries with well built curation tools, it creates a magical experience for the consumer. Recently, Spotify (an enormous content library) made a major improvement to its music discovery tool.

Spotify eliminated the all inclusive discovery stream, replacing it with a Twitteresque “follow” model. Previously, the all inclusive stream displayed all the music being listened to by a user’s Facebook friends. This previous discovery model had several shortcomings. First and foremost, it ignored the simple fact that peoples music tastes are not homogenous. People have certain friends or tastemakers they look to for new music. Music taste is extremely personal, so assuming users are interested in ALL their friends tastes is a rash generalization.

Instead of a stream with all the music a user’s FB friends listen to, the right 1/5th of the Spotify window now contains a curated stream. Spotify users now elect which friends and artists to follow. Based on those choices, users see a stream with songs those specific friends listen to (and tracks/playlists artists recommend). This “follow” model is a proper reflection of social music exchange in real life: we’re only interested in certain peoples tastes. I believe this is the first in several product decisions Spotify will make to create a better social music expereience. This first change is focused on social discovery, and it has major product and revenue ramifications for Spotify:

  1. Privacy:

    As opposed to before, only users who specifically elect to follow me will see what I listen to. This makes me feel much more comfortable. I didn’t like that previously, seemingly the entire overlap of my Spotify-Facebook venn diagram could see my listens….. Not EVERYTHING I listen to I want broadcast out to the world. This “follow” model is much better for private listening.

  2. Better Music Recommendations: Curated Stream

    I now get to curate whose feed I see. Instead of wading through unwanted clutter, I can focus on the friends/musicians whose taste I respect. Plus, in the open graph model, I can follow anyone I wish.

  3. Advertising Value For Brands: Native Ads

    With a curated recommendation stream, Spotify can charge artists or brands to advertise their latest releases, playlists, etc. inside that stream. This creates an additional revenue source for Spotify that can even be included in premium subscriptions. The best part of native recommendation ads is that becuase they would be curated, they will genuinely add value for the end user.

I’m very excited about the most recent update to Spotify social, and am looking forward to what’s next.

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Interesting?

Curation is the Future

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the need for curation services online. The amount of content we are exposed to daily is out of control. Outside of personal communication content (email, text, photos, instagrams, facebook posts and messages, etc) we consume an amazing amount of content daily online. Sorting through all the content at our fingertips is at worst impossible and at best overwhelming.

The amount of content served to us online is ridiculous!

The amount of content served to us online is ridiculous!

One set of curation tools is our personal network. Links are recommended via email. Videos are posted to facebook. Articles are tweeted. Some content is specifically recommended for us, and some is blasted out indiscriminately. These are all sources for content, but what truly excites me is the emergence of standalone curation services. By that, I mean services that are built for curation, not a friend emailing you a link to a funny video.

Several standalone content curation services already impress me. The first is the app Prismatic, an outstanding app that surfaces content (mostly print articles) based off your social presence online. I check in with Prismatic a few times a day and am ALWAYS met with interesting articles. Another tool I love is Devour, which hand picks the best new video content. Devour’s content is edgy, and shows how human led curation remains far better than algorithms. These two services use very different strategies to successfully recommend content. While Prismatic bases their recommendations off my tastes, Devour’s curation is based of their tastes.

Some content farms have in-house curation tools. My NYTimes digital front page is different from yours, tailored to my past clicks and interests. The same can be said for my youtube homepage. However, the intention of any in-house curation tools is to keep you in-network, maximizing your time spent on THEIR site. That is why I love content curation services that are unaffiliated from content farms. They are selfless. They are exciting. They serve me with personalized content, which I sure do love to consume.

Everyone loves to consumer online

Everyone loves to consumer online

The emergence of these tools will have a variety of effects. For the consumer, it offers a promise of premium content. However, as these tools further democratize the net, curation services will put additional pressure on established producers to create GREAT content. With so much noise, good just won’t cut through anymore.

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Interesting? 

A Necessary Partnership: Spotify & Shazam

School has started, and I’ve never been so busy. In the first week of class I’ve spent more time in the library than any week previously in College (including finals). Even so, I’m having a ton of fun! I love my classes for the first time in a long time. They are demanding AND fulfilling. I have good teachers. Damn, does that make all the difference.

Despite being quite overwhelmed in school, I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve had about Shazam, an app that I love use a ton. In fact, as a cheap, poor college student, it’s one of three apps I’ve ever purchased (The others were KCRWs Radio App and Call Recorder, which I use to record interviews). There’s nothing new about Shazam, it’s been out and successful for years now. It seems to work like magic :), which is the best kind of app.

However, there is a major disconnect when it comes to Shazam’s interface with music listening services.

Shazam

I am constantly using Shazam to gather information about new songs I want to listen to, but to do that listening I must go back into Shazam once I am home, and individually search for the songs on Spotify/Grooveshark/Whatever. That is a lot of work!

The missing, essential function of Shazam is an automated “deposit” tool, that creates a playlist in my Shazam playlist in my Spotify account and automatically creates a playlist based off of my tags. This would cut out an enormous amount of work for the user. It would make also the entire music discovery/listening experience much more circular.

Just some food for thought.

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Interesting? 

Playlists Are(n’t) The New Album

Sean Parker is very fond of saying, “Playlists are the New Album.” He’s a tremendous salesman and one of his products, Spotify is in the business of playlists. However, as much as I love Spotify as a tool for music discovery and consumption, I do not love it as a tool for music curation. The reason? Playlists are too much work.

The renowned Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson is a believer in the power of curation. He states, “I’ve got a few simple frameworks for thinking about things. In social media, one of my main ones is the tenet that 1% of the users will create content, 10% will curate it, and the rest will consume it.” In the above linked article, he is making the case that the inclusion of the simple “like” button in Foursquare’s newly redesigned mobile application will allow users to better curate social content, which is vital to the success of the platform. Ease of curation for the user is incredibly important for any content-based platform.

Spotify is inherently different from Foursqaure. It is not a social media platform. It is most fundamentally a music listening service. However, there is a major disconnect in Spotify’s interface between all the content (millions and millions of songs) and the listener. The disconnect, simply put, is that it is hard to discover from and organize all that music into a format I want to listen to.

I am lazy with music. I do not like to take the time to build or curate playlists. Sure, I subscribe to some playlists which are good for music discovery, but the makeup of these playlists is not foolproof. Instead, I am forced to haphazardly toss music randomly into playlists in a disorganized format just to hold onto artists/albums/songs I like. There is not even a basic Itunesesque library function to hold all the music I want to remember from Spotify’s vast libraries.

This disconnect creates a tremendous amount of work for me, the user. It makes curation of my “library” extremely difficult. In addition, it is difficult to navigate within playlists. There is no easy search/sort feature that spans all playlists like in Itunes. I am instead forced to scroll for days. Searching for music is too much work.

The Search Bar Doesn’t Even Function Within Playlists

Sean Parker states that the Playlist is the new Album. He wants to believe it. But in Spotify’s current form, playlists are too difficult. They create too much work. They are difficult to curate, and they cause me, the user (a premium user, at that!) stress and anger. If I, the user, am going to pay for the ability to consume a service’s content, I want the curation to be straightforward and easy.

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Just Another Industry: The End of the Scarcity Model in Music

The following table examines the components of the music business that made it “perfect” for Internet-based disruption, and the state of those components afterward.

Business Component Pre-Disruption (Perfect Industry) Post-Disruption (No Longer Special)
Promotion Magazines pushing Record Companies’ product: Free Most music magazines have become culture based. Do not have nearly the same pull over readers. People do not need recommendations. They can sample and judge for themselves.
Promotion Radio pushing Record Companies’ product: Free Still relevant, but does not have nearly the same pull over listeners as before. Decentralized by emergence of Internet Radio.
Promotion Television: MTV: Free Advertising Now industry must pay for television advertising, like all other industries.
Promotion/ Distribution Physical Distribution. Chains of independent retailers whose focus was selling Record Companies’ product. Now only physical distribution is big box stores (Target, Walmart, etc.) or Mom & Pop indies. Physical is waning anyway. Digital distribution is not monopolized.
Distribution Controlled by Record Companies: Oligopoly. Distribution now flat. Internet is an equal space, any random musician can have worldwide digital distribution without Record Companies.
Listening Technology Records followed by CDs. High Priced. Cheap to produce. Not copyable. Wears out (must be replaced). Digital copies cost nothing or are cheap. They are easily copied. They do not wear out. Unlimited consumption streaming services like Spotify are emerging.
Costs of Production Used to take enormous sums of money to make a commercially viable album. Now solid albums can be created cheaply with virtual instruments and home studios.
Popularity Principle: Reinforcing Just had to get Album into Top 40 charts to create more sales: Consumer rationale “Must be good because it is selling!” World of niches. People can sample for free, will only buy what they personally like.
Cool Factor Music defines people over long periods of time. Still relevant.

 

5 Things I Wish Were Improved In Spotify

I love Spotify. I have used it since it first became available in the US. I’m a premium member, and consume most of my music through Spotify. However, there are several issues I have with the service that I would love to see improved.

1)   Playlists– I am a consumenivor (as Nick Bilton would say). I consume content online, all day, in a variety of ways.  I do not have the time or the desire for playlists. Plus, I am an unorganized person.  I want two things in my virtual music collection. One is a basic library format containing all the music I like/want/could ever dream of. The second is an easy-to-use metadata based search function (think iTunes) to navigate said library. In its current state, my Spotify music library is a bit of an unorganized mess, as I get lost in all my different playlists.

2)   The Mobile App– Just got the latest update…

Still unimpressed. I want the ability to access my play history! Plus, I want the play history to be synced between the computer and the mobile device. How else can I remember music as I discover it?  Take the time and hassle to organize it into playlists… while on my phone?!? Not happening. Also, the process of searching for and playing music while on a mobile device is arduous. This App will only serve you well if you are a playlist person.

3)   Sharing– With the latest Spotify update, I have a huge column on the right side of my screen. It is supposed to be filled with people who are my “favorites.” So far, it is empty. Yet, I can’t minimize it!. This “favorites” column is taking up 1/5 of my window and is empty. Yikes. Stop trying to make me share through your service, or at least build a less intrusive function.

Look at all that wasted screen space!!…Plus, I really struggled over what music was in the background…I want to seem cool (see #4)

4)   Facebook Integration– Not everything I listen to is cool and hip. I am not very cool or hip. Facebook is all about presenting a finely honed version of yourself to your online community. Unless out of sarcasm, no one wants to look foolish on Facebook. The audience is too large.  But, when my listening habits are broadcast to the world through FB, I feel an uncomfortable pressure to only play what other people will not judge me for.  That is extremely hard, as everyone’s musical tastes are different. Just another barrier between Spotify’s paradigm and an at-ease listening environment.

5)   The Vibe of Its Updates– Every time I download an updated version of Spotify, it feels as if the service is moving further and further away from what I as a fan and as a music consumer want.  The core advantage over alternative music-consumption methods, cheap access to quality streams of most artists’ catalogs, remains strong. However, many of the ancillary features feel as if they are advancing the value of Spotify, rather than my consumption experience. (Example: Facebook integration. I feel my privacy is being violated. They gain huge amounts of exposure to untapped music consumers).

6)   Lack of Integration With Services I Use– I know I said 5, but this one just came to me. Why can’t every song I Shazam be instantly added to a “Shazam” playlist??

I just tweeted #6 one at Daniel Ek. Maybe he’ll use it.

P.S. I love Spotify, and use it incessantly. But, that is not because it is an unbelievable product, but because it is simply the best that currently exists.