Stop the presses! As of today, Thursday, the 14th day of July 2011, it is now possible to use Spotify in the United States without being a member of the press, using a Swedish PayPal account, or employing some other workaround.
You can start paying for Spotify today, during this “invite-only beta phase,” if you already know you want it ($5 per month on a computer only or $10 per month to add a smartphone). To sign up for the ongoing free version, you need an invitation from someone who already uses it or an invitation from Spotify itself.
Spotify’s announcement quotes an article I wrote for Wired in one of many previews anticipating the service’s launch here: “Those who have tried Spotify know it’s like a magical version of iTunes in which you’ve already bought every song in the world.” Well, it has over 15 million songs at this point, which isn’t technically every song in the world, but I still stand by that description – although the same might be said for other unlimited subscription services like Rhapsody and MOG, which we’ve had here for years.
So, what makes Spotify so magical?
I’m not alone in loving its design, or the way it uses a P2P architecture to reduce its bandwidth costs by sending songs between end users behind the scenes, but those are relatively trifling differences.
The main factor that prevents it from merely being Rhapsody’s good-looking Swedish cousin is that you can use it for free, forever, so long as you’re willing to put up with limits on how many times you can stream a song (five) and how many hours of music you can stream per month (ten). These limits kick in after a six-month all-you-can-listen period.
According to Spotify co-founder Daniel Ek, only this sort of permissive “freemium” version can succeed in wooing music fans away from free sources of music, and his company’s success in Europe appears to back up that theory. In addition, it means that you can share Spotify songs on Facebook, and anyone who has it installed — whether they pay or not — can play it so long as they haven’t hit their limit, the same way they would a YouTube video.
If you’re willing to put up with those limits after six months, as well as some ads (usually audio with an image), you can use Spotify for free, forever — and that is the chief factor that separates it from services like MOG (which, to its credit, recently did away with the need to enter a credit card number in order to try it for free).
So, why would someone pay for Spotify when they can listen forever for free?
Paying the monthly fee removes those listening limits, gets rid of the ads (initially from Coca-Cola and Sprite, Chevrolet, Motorola, Reebok, Sonos and The Daily), increases the sound quality of Spotify’s Ogg Vorbis music streams, and allows you to cache music so that it is stored on your computer or smartphone, and can be played without a WiFi or cellular data connection — just like the music in iTunes. This distinction is especially important if you use a Chromebook or have a smartphone with a limited data plan.
Speaking of iTunes, Spotify users need only use that to score new apps, because Spotify (paid or unpaid) allows you to import your iTunes music and even transfer it to an iPod from within the program.
Unlike iTunes, however, Spotify lives in the cloud, which allows it to be far more social. For instance, you can share a playlist with your friends — and not only can they listen to the whole thing, but they can add songs to it. You can also share individual songs using a simple URL or a “Spotify URI” — or by sending it to Facebook, Twitter, Windows Messager, or Spotify’s own social sharing service.
However, there’s still something you can’t do with a Spotify song: embed it in a blog post.