Analysis

Spotify tests on-demand access to some playlists for free users


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“Does Anyone’s Spotify Look Like This?” wrote a plaintive poster on Spotify’s Android support forums a couple of weeks ago, with screenshots showing what appears to be a stripped-down, spacier user interface for the streaming service’s mobile app.

This being the internet, the comments on the short thread include “I really do not like it. How can I get my old Spotify back?”, “This is a horrible update” and “I hate it”.

Other threads on Spotify’s support forums – for example herehere and here – have talked about the new ‘three-tab’ UI which is being tested on some Android users, while tech blog Android Police picked up on it a few weeks ago.

But Music Ally has also been tipped off by an Android user based in the UK about another test accompanying this which focuses on functionality rather than form.

It concerns a tweak to the way Spotify’s free tier works on mobile: “750 on-demand tracks in 15 constantly changing playlists,” is the way one user described it to us. “Playlists with blue shuffle symbol are still subject to shuffle restriction, but Spotify makes available a lot of its own curated playlists on a fully on-demand basis.”

Our source also suggested that many of the people complaining about the new user interface haven’t yet realised that they also have the new on-demand playlists.

When contacted by Music Ally, Spotify confirmed that this is a test, while declining to give further details.

“At Spotify, we routinely conduct a number of tests in an effort to improve our user experience,” a spokesperson told us. “Some of those tests end up paving the path for our broader user experience and others serve only as an important learning. We aren’t going to comment on specific tests at this time.”

Spotify’s free tier on mobile has traditionally offered ‘shuffle play’ mode for playlists and albums, with listeners required to upgrade to a premium subscription for on-demand access. The company’s experimentation with limited on-demand features for free users has two parallels worth thinking about.

The first is what Pandora started doing in the US last December: allowing its free users to listen to a specific album or song if they watch a 15-second video ad first.

The second is another Spotify test: a standalone app called Stationsthat’s currently available in Australia, focusing on the service’s radio-style stations feature. Listeners can ‘like’ songs to unlock personalised stations too.

These features and experiments are geared towards making more of free, ad-supported music-streaming tiers, both in terms of widening their funnel of new listeners (in the case of Stations) and giving free users a taste of Premium on-demand features (Pandora’s ad-unlocks and Spotify’s Android test) to draw them towards a subscription.

It’s welcome experimentation, and there’s potential for more in the months ahead.

Stuart Dredge

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