The Spotify debut was more complicated than expected. Though anyone could buy a subscription (two levels, costing roughly $5 or $10 a month), free memberships were invitation-only. We were told that would change soon, and now it has — with a catch: You don’t need an invitation anymore, but you do have to be on Facebook.
Tap-dancing around qualms customers might have about further ensnarement in Mark Zuckerberg’s “Who wants privacy?” empire, Spotify insists that sharing your listening habits with the world is strictly optional. But unless you know enough to change the default settings, your activity will be seen by anybody who sees you on Facebook — caveat emptor to any punk rocker worried about revealing his hidden weakness for show tunes.
Spotify is fundamentally different from Pandora, its main rival in the world of free, legit music streaming. Pandora is like a radio, with users selecting a genre, then listening to whatever Pandora plays for them; users can skip over songs they don’t like, but agreements with record labels (who instinctively fear giving consumers too much control) limit that skipping, even for subscribers to a no-ads, $36/year upgraded service.
Spotify, on the other hand, has talked labels into letting users not only skip songs they don’t like, but choose exactly what they hear and when. If Pandora’s a radio, Spotify’s a jukebox: Users choose any of 15 million songs at any time. Unlike Pandora, there are no restrictions on how often songs can be repeated or skipped — though once the “honeymoon” ends, free users will be limited to a paltry 10 hours of music a month and won’t be able to play any track more than five times.
Fifteen million songs is a lot, but any fan will be able to find holes in the inventory — the most glaring being the absence of Beatles music. The Fab Four have always been a new-technology holdout: Fans of a certain age will recall what big news it was when their LPs came out on CD. When iTunes finally got them, Apple was so proud it ran billboards for months. (The Beatles are, however, on Pandora.)