Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Spotify Expands Its Reach, but Still Can’t Get to the U.S.

hismastersvoiceAnother expansion for Spotify, the much-hyped European streaming music service: It’s now going to be available on Nokia (NOK) phones and other handsets that run the Symbian platform. That’s good, because the service is supposed to work best as a mobile play.

But Spotify has yet to make a key expansion: To the U.S., where the big music labels worry that consumers will love everything about the site except paying for it. That’s bad, since Spotify is supposed to work best as a subscription service.

Most Americans have never heard of Symbian, though it remains the biggest player in the global smartphone market (as long as you use a broad definition of smartphone). But it’s telling that Spotify made a point of making its service compatible with Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone and Google’s (GOOG) Android handsets first.

In any event, Spotify is only available via mobile to paying subscribers, who shell out around $16 a month in the U.K. (and less in some countries). They key question for the music business is how many subscribers there are.

Spotify won’t release statistics, but one number that I’ve heard from people close to the company is 100,000, which works out to less than two percent of the company’s overall user base (free users can listen to the service only on their PCs and have to endure a small smattering of ads). But U.S. music industry executives worry that the subscription number may be even lower than that.

The two sides continue to chat, and conventional wisdom is that the service will indeed get to the U.S. one day. But at one point, Spotify was talking about coming to America in 2009, but that looks just about impossible. Now, CEO Daniel Ek is talking about the first half of 2010.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik