Peter Kafka

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“Music Everywhere”: Spotify’s “New Direction”

Hey! Remember last week, when Spotify sent out that cryptic announcement about a press conference they’re holding this week, and said they’re headed in a “new direction”?

Here’s what the music service is likely to announce: The ability to let third-party developers tap into Spotify’s music library and make it available to their own users — as long as those users are already paying Spotify for a premium account.

That’s what Spotify has been discussing with developers for much of this fall. My educated guess is that the company intends to unveil its plans at its Wednesday event in New York.’s Eliot Van Buskirk reached the same conclusion last week.

Spotify reps won’t comment, and I’ve yet to find a developer who says they’re working with Spotify on the new project. And developers working on some music-based apps that would be logical candidates for a Spotify tie-up tell me they’re not helping the service launch its expanded API (application programming interface).

Want more hedges? No problem: There’s an open question about whether Spotify would need to seek permission from the big music labels and publishers to open up its catalog to outsiders, or whether their existing deals will suffice. As you may recall, the last time Spotify needed permission from the labels — when it wanted to open up in the U.S. — the process took more than two years. (Shudder).

But at least some industry sources think that this is doable, and say that both Spotify and the labels envision the expanded APIs as the music industry’s version of “authentication,” or “TV Everywhere” — the TV industry plan that gives cable TV subscribers the ability to watch (some) programming on the Web or on iPad apps.

Call it “Music Everywhere.”

At least some of the big labels are “philosophically aligned with the idea of using Spotify as an ‘authentication layer,'” says an industry executive. “They see this as a value-add and they’re not worried about cannibalization.”

From a behind-the-scenes business perspective, that attitude itself is newsworthy, because the labels have for some time had a hard time figuring out just what to make of Spotify.

And I can imagine why Spotify thinks an API expansion is a big deal. “Spotify everywhere” makes the service that much stickier and useful, and it gives more users incentive to upgrade from their free accounts to paid subscriptions.

Linking up with lots of developers and services could also loosen Spotify’s dependence on Facebook, which wouldn’t be the worst idea. Facebook is currently generating a fire hose of traffic and users for Spotify via its new layout, and so far that’s been great for Daniel Ek’s company. So is the fact the services share backers, advisers and a similar view of the world. But having sources of traffic and users from places other than Mark Zuckerberg would be a healthy idea in the long run.

And for you, the average Spotify user? This won’t be nearly so meaningful.

Spotify just announced that it has 2.5 million paying subscribers, which makes it the largest Web music subscription service, by a wide margin. But the overwhelming percentage of Spotify’s users aren’t paying for the service, which would mean they won’t be able to access it from outside services.

So maybe “new direction” is an oversell. Perhaps Spotify felt it needed to say something big after Apple launched its iTunes Match service and Google rolled out its long-awaited music launch. “New options, for some” might do it. We’ll find out Wednesday.

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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