Spotify Halves Free Allowance Ahead Of U.S. Launch

Spotify, which had previously slimmed the amount of music users could play for free, is now making a further curtailment that’s aimed at wringing more paid subscriptions…

  • Free listening hours will be halved from 20 hours per month to 10 hours.
  • Free users can play a track up to five times only.

For new free users, both new limits kick in after six months. For existing free users who joined before last November, the new track limit will take effect from this May 1.

Spotify doesn’t give reason for the changes in its announcement to users (we have asked), but there are three possibilities…

  • Because it can: Spotify has proved it can convert one million out of its 10 million users to pay. But, with nine million left over, there’s an ample pool to try converting.
  • It’s about cost control: This is not the first time Spotify has limited playing hours. To manage bandwidth during its first-year boom, it temporarily disabled new UK sign-ups and recast its unlimited free tier as the 20-hour Open it has today. A further clamp on play time could be another attempt at controlling bandwidth or royalty outgoings, which are about to grow when it launches in new countries.
  • It’s a label stipulation: Though Spotify has signed two majors on its U.S. odyssey, they remain keener than their European counterparts on more pay-oriented music services. Spotify was also recently renewing its European label deals.

Update: Spotify rejected all three suggestions.

Spotify has always said its free service remains a critical premium driver, from which it nevertheless makes “millions” in ad sales, and that any U.S. service would launch with a free element, albeit slightly different. Spotify’s New York-based chief content officer Kenneth Parks says today, somewhat defensively: “Our chief priority is to keep the free service, which is what has made Spotify so popular and successful.”

My bet is, Spotify’s new, less-free European tier is a template for the kind of free service it will launch Stateside – U.S. label negotiations have now informed a redefinition of the service over the pond.

No changes are announced to the ad-free Unlimited tier (£4.99/€4.99pm) or the Premium tier (£9.99/€9.99pm), which is required for accessing Spotify through mobile and other non-PC devices.

Spotify staff tweets…