Adele Tells Spotify: I’ll Find “Someone Like You”

by Chris Holt, Marketing

Adele Adkins brought home an armful of Grammy Awards for her smash hit album “21.” Yet, despite millions of sales, the album “21” is notably absent from streaming music service Spotify’s content catalog. According to, Adele was surprisingly fine with having the content on the site, but wanted it be only available to premium (paid) members. But since Spotify wanted to keep its music libraries for free and premium members the same, the company actually declined to have the hit album on their service. “Spotify would have had to change its whole strategy to accommodate her,” explains FastCompany’s Austin Carr.

The story of Adele’s “21” isn’t completely new; for decades, artists have been trying to control the way their content is consumed. But as the power of record companies has waned and third party services have increased, artists, record companies, services, and consumers often have different priorities and approaches to content consumption. The rise and fall of Napster, the prolonged absence of Beatles music on iTunes, and Radiohead’s decision to release an album online with payment optional—all of these moments indicate an evolving societal view of copyright law, artist rights, and monetization of media. Smack dab in the middle of this tug-of-war is subscription services like Spotify.

For music services, the better the library is and the most convenient the access, the more customers will feel comfortable subscribing. And the more subscribers you have, the more likely it is that at least some of them will become paying customers.  But as record companies and artists see profits disappear as their content is streamed for free, they in turn put pressure on music services. This pressure can be in the form of withholding artist content (as is the case with Adele), charging more for the use of the content, or even launching competing services themselves. That seems to be the intention of HTC and Beat Audio’s joint venture: to provide competition to Spotify and perhaps provide more protection to artists’ and record companies’ content.

Personally, I want to see more competition between music subscription models, because while I use Spotify, it can still be improved. Spotify blinking means that artists still have a real impact on how their content is being consumed, and that’s a good thing. But it’s also worrisome if record companies and artists simply walk away from the table and deny music service listeners their content. The possibility of no more “freemium” music services isn’t something consumers look forward to, and seeing incomplete libraries scattered across several music platforms is also not something consumers want.

The way I see it, you can’t put the music streaming subscription genie back in the bottle, and so the music industry and the artists’ collective gnashing of teeth is an element of growing pains. It seems that the best way to combat situations like the one that transpired with Adele’s “21” is to offer not just off two pricing models (freemium and premium), but many. Subscription business models should be all about the consumer and their unique needs. So the lesson here is that Spotify wasn’t flexible enough to offer multiple solutions: perhaps something along the lines of different subscriptions for how frequently you listen, what genre you listen to, how important it is to listen to new music, and of course how frequently you get advertisements. Spotify, and other music services, haven’t really tapped into targeted advertisements either, the way companies like Facebook and Google have. Subscription services aren’t going away, but it’s up to the players involved to create a flexible, scalable solution that is going to satisfy customers and artists alike.

Spotify blinked and is likely going to be challenged soon. If they can adapt, they’ll continue to thrive, but if they don’t, then another competitor will be able to deliver the experience that the consumer wants–and where the consumer goes, so will the artists.


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