spotify-merch

Over recent weeks, more than 200 artists have been selling merchandise through their Spotify profiles, after the streaming music service announced a partnership with D2C firm Topspin to launch the new feature.

Now it’s being opened up to everyone. From today, any artist can start selling merchandise on Spotify, from t-shirts and posters through to vinyl and deluxe box-sets.

Spotify is using Topspin’s ArtistLink tool, which means artists don’t have to use that company’s own stores to sell: instead they link it to whatever D2C store they’re already using. Spotify is also keen to stress that neither Spotify nor Topspin will be taking a cut of the revenues.

The practicalities: artists can list up to three items of merchandise at once within Spotify, and each will need to be “moderated and approved” before it’s posted, which Spotify’s introductory blog post claims will be done “typically within 24 to 28 hours”.

For now, merchandise will only be available in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland versions of Spotify – the company terms them “English-speaking countries” with plans to roll out elsewhere “in the future”.

Music Ally talked to director of artist services Mark Williamson about the wider rollout of merchandise on Spotify. “It’s quite an elegant solution: artists don’t need to change how they sell merch at all in terms of their online store, fulfilment or any deals they might have,” he said. “We wanted to make it as easy as possible.”

The 200+ artists who’ve been early adopters of the new feature included Led Zeppelin, Beastie Boys, Banks, Odd Future, Grateful Dead, Bon Jovi and Deadmau5, with Williamson saying that “users have been responding to it really well”, while declining to give any figures just yet.

“What’s important to us is that with this integration, we don’t just want to chuck a merchandise listing up and say ‘that’s it’. We want to optimise it, so we’ll be examining what’s working across all the artists – what kind of items are selling, from $10 t-shirts through to bundles: a digital download, a bit of vinyl and a t-shirt.”

The theory is that Spotify will be able to pass on these lessons to artists, helping them to understand what kind of merch is most likely to sell to fans streaming their music. It is, after all, a new dynamic.

For now, the merch will only be shown within artist profiles. It’s a start, but it feels like there is more that could be done in the future: for example showing new merch items within the Browse and Discover pages on Spotify from artists that a Spotify user has listened to lots; or even showing them alongside artwork when a track is playing.

“We are exploring other spaces within our different apps where it might be appropriate and valuable to show merchandise,” said Williamson. For now, the merch listings will only be seen within Spotify’s desktop app, but it seems likely that web and mobile will follow in due course.

There remains some sensitivity on how the launch may be perceived by Spotify’s critics. One example is the company’s desire to ensure artists understand it won’t be taking any fees from their merch sales, but another is Williamson’s view on how it fits with the wider picture on artist income.

“One of the things that we like to stress is that we’re not one of those companies that thinks it’s enough to give away your music for free then make your money from merchandise and ticketing,” he said. “Our primary goal is still to return value for recorded music by paying royalties. But this and our Songkick integration for tickets can be very valuable for artists on top of that.”

Spotify may have launched its Topspin-powered merch feature just ahead of Beats Music, which announced plans to do it a year ago, and will be launching its service this week in the US. Won’t this become a standard feature for all streaming services by the end of 2014, though?

“It seems like a no-brainer, but we’re the first to have actually done it, even if lots of people have talked about it. It’s not enough to just put a merch listing on a page. You’ve got to have users engaged with the service, and have enough of them for it to be worthwhile for an artist,” said Williamson.

“The way we’re pushing it is important: we’re doing this not just with merchandise, but with ticketing, and we’re sharing analytics with artists too. This is showing how much value can be built around streams for an artist, but the back-story is that the value of streaming royalties is increasing.”

Williamson’s hope is that merchandise within Spotify (but by extension, within its rivals too) could be a boon for merchandise sales, if it tempts fans to browse who haven’t been near a merch table at a concert for some time. In essence, reactivating lapsed merchandise buyers.

“A lot of people haven’t bought a piece of merchandise for years, so we’re hoping this nudges them to check it out again,” said Williamson. “I’ve already bought a Led Zeppelin jumper and t-shirt!”