If you ever happen to observe me in my natural state – sitting at a red light, at my desk, on my couch (these are my natural states) – you’ll probably notice that I’m constantly bobbing my head, tapping my foot or, if you’re truly lucky, singing. It’s because at any point in my day, there’s a song playing in my head. I’ve got the music in me.
So naturally, when European music network Spotify decided to direct its speakers toward American ears, I was all over it. Fortunately, I secured an early invitation and was able to fuel my addiction with playlist subscriptions and Swedish pop music, peppered with the occasional advertisement.
Fast forward a few months, and I’ve all but abandoned the social music platform. Why? Because nearly every song is followed by the same advertisement and every time I open the application window, I have to close an additional banner ad.
Fast forward another couple of weeks and I realize that the free ride is almost over. After six months, streaming is limited for those unwilling to dish out the 10 bucks for full service. Not cool, Spotify. There are few things left that most people willingly pay for online these days, but music and movies just aren’t among them, as evidenced by recent SOPA/PIPA debates.
The real problem is that it’s not just Spotify. Online communities have long histories of pissing off the cheapos of the digital world. For example:
- Napster got nixed
- Pandora had too many ads
- Neopets became more expensive than real pets
- LinkedIn won’t allow you to see who’s viewed your profile without paying
- iTunes upped its prices
- YouTube makes you watch ads before “instant” videos
- Twitter is promoting tweets in users’ streams
- Facebook is allowing Twitter’s promoted tweets in News Feed
- Facebook is about to go public
Get the picture? At this point, it’s assumed that it’s only a matter of time before Pinterest starts pinning dollars to itself like it’s its birthday.
So what makes other profitable networks like Foursquare so great? Well, for one, they don’t charge you for something easily procured elsewhere. Also, they either have a large enough user base hooked on the network before they began monetizing, or their models have monetization built in before they ever launch.
When smartphone users download an application for free, they fully expect ads to be incorporated. “Free” and “ad support” are pretty much synonymous in the multimedia world these days; however, all media are not created equal. A 25-pixel banner at the bottom of my iPhone is far less problematic than the musical billboard Spotify has become. It’s basically like watching a TV commercial while listening to a radio commercial.
In this particular case, my personal recommendation would’ve been for the network to offer six months of full functionality before reverting to limited use – especially since the U.S. had no existing users beforehand – rather than six months of ad-heavy use, followed by an eternity of limitations.
And to all you other social networks out there:
We know you’re going to monetize. It’s only natural. You’ve got to bring home the bacon. But keep in mind that if you don’t think long and hard about how advertisements, fees and tiered account access will affect the usability of your application, you’re going to be losing quite a few followers that could be putting money in your pocket.
Oh, and Spotify: Just so you know, I was cheating on you the whole time with Grooveshark.