MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Spotify has arrived in the United States. It's a free streaming music service, and it's already big in Europe. Spotify has been available there for nearly three years.
Jacob Ganz reports on how the company hopes to make it big stateside.
JACOB GANZ: Here's the key thing to know about Spotify - according to Ken Parks, the company's chief content officer - the service is built on the idea that listening to music should be easy.
Mr. KEN PARKS (Chief Content Officer, Spotify): Picture a shelf of music in your house with 15 million records and with one click you can sort of pull down any record and begin listening to it within a fraction of a second.
GANZ: The service lives up to its promise, says Mark Mulligan, who writes the Music Industry Blog from his home in the U.K. Mulligan has used Spotify since it launched there a year and a half ago, and he says the company has done a good job of appealing to all kinds of users.
Mr. MARK MULLIGAN (Music Industry Analyst): One of the things which Spotify did as they designed this vision right from the start was really sort of looking at how they could unlock the mass market. When you look at services like Rhapsody and MOG and Rdio and - you know, and Napster as well, what makes those stand apart is they're really sophisticated user experiences, lots of content creation and content curation, things that really get the music aficionado engaged. But engaging the music aficionado alone isn't enough. And it clearly hasn't been enough for Rhapsody and the rest.
GANZ: So Spotify's plan puts the emphasis on three temporal concepts: along with being simple, it has a huge catalog and it's free. The catalog issue was resolved in the U.S. just this week when Spotify finalized a deal with the last of the four major record labels. And, of course, the free part comes with a little catch: Users have to listen to 15-second ads. Spotify will split the revenue with labels. And after an introductory period, there will be limits on the amount of music free users can listen to.
Ken Parks hopes that if you like the free service, you'll pay for an upgrade.
Mr. PARKS: For as little as 4.99, users can strip away the ads, and the top-tier service, our 9.99 premium service, allows users to put that music on their mobile devices and also enjoy offline access, so you don't have to worry about whether you're in range of Wi-Fi or the Internet.
GANZ: Spotify calls the combination of a free service with a premium service freemium. The other thing that sets Spotify apart is streaming. It's not a storage locker like the Amazon Cloud Player or Apple's iCloud, both of which launched while Spotify was negotiating with the major labels. You don't have to upload music you own, just search, click and listen.
Glenn Peoples, a senior editorial analyst for Billboard magazine, says it works well enough and it's flexible enough that it might attract the audience that has eluded subscription streaming services in the past.
Mr. GLENN PEOPLES (Senior Editorial Analyst, Billboard Magazine): I think Spotify's freemium model is an acknowledgment that not everybody puts the same value on music.
GANZ: Peoples says Spotify will test the question of whether listeners in the U.S. will ever use a subscription model.
Mr. PEOPLES: That's something that the market hasn't had yet, something that would really attract not just hard-core music people but mainstream people and price-conscious people and people who were pirating music before. You know, it can put up some big numbers.
GANZ: As the Music Industry Blog's Mark Mulligan puts it, Spotify's technology is blurring the distinction between a download and a stream. If it works in the States, he says, in five or 10 years, we might just stop caring about whether we own music at all.
For NPR News, I'm Jacob Ganz.