Spotify has concocted a new way to hook fans into becoming subscribers: a free, ad-supported radio feature that will play forever within the Spotify iOS app (including its new iPad version) — whether or not the person pays a cent for the service.
Until today, using Spotify for free meant sticking to the desktop version or putting up with a 48-hour limit with the iOS version, or 30 days if you plunked down a credit card. The new radio feature, which lets paying or non-paying users listen to streaming stations based on any song, person, or playlist within the Spotify ecosystem, lets users “thumb up” a song to add it to a new “Liked From Radio” playlist (or they can add what they find to any other playlist). This allows you to listen back to all the songs you’ve harvested from radio on-demand using the desktop version.
“For all free users in the U.S., for the first time, they will be able to use Spotify [for as long as they want],” said Spotify product manager Donovan Sung. “They will all get access to the mobile free radio. This is our first time having a free mobile streaming experience for users.”
The new radio feature, which iOS users will be able to access via a new, persistent radio button that pops up all over the place within the app once the new version goes live “in the days to come,” gives Spotify another way to convert non-paying users into paying customers. They’ll be able to add songs they hear on the radio to their collection — and Spotify’s data shows that the more playlists people create, the more likely they are to become paying subscribers, which makes sense, because only then can they access on-demand playlists from portables.
The move also saves Spotify money, as compared to playing on-demand music. Evolver.fm confirmed with Spotify spokesman Graham James that Spotify will be paying for these tracks as part of the standard DMCA license — the same one Pandora uses — rather than under its license to play any song on-demand, which costs much more. The radio feature is also available to paying users (albeit without the ads), so when they listen to the radio, it saves Spotify money as compared to the on-demand plays. If you don’t pay, you should hear ads about as often as you do on the desktop version.
Plenty of other apps let you select a song or artist and start listening to a radio station based on it. This is one of the first we’ve seen that also lets you start a radio station based on any playlist — even the ones you can’t listen to in Spotify if you have the free version for iOS — or any of your friends’ playlists. The latter option works especially well for your friends’ Starred playlists, because it lets you dabble in their musical taste. You can’t hear their exact playlists unless you start paying — but the free radio version gets you fairly close.
“This party playlist here — this isn’t from me, it’s from my girlfriend,” explained Sung, as he demonstrated the free iOS app in Spotify’s New York office. “Even as a free user, you can browse all of your friends’ playlists… If I’m a free user, I can’t play any of them on-demand, but I can [now] play a radio based off of [them].”
So, how are the new radio feature’s music choices, which are based on Spotify’s knowledge of what people have in their playlists (sort of like how iTunes Genius works)? In our pre-release testing on Monday afternoon (we were sworn to secrecy until now), we spotted a few dodgy recommendations — Elliott Smith doesn’t sound like My Bloody Valentine, and The Doors’ “Light My Fire” doesn’t make sense in a station based on a song from The Clash’s Sandanista – but also plenty of good ones. Whenever you hear something you don’t like, you can just hit the skip button (up to six times per hour, as mandated by the DMCA).
As with everything else you listen to on Spotify, your listens will be scrobbled to Facebook unless you turn Facebook sharing off. This could have led to some awkwardness (“Hey, I don’t listen to The Doors!”), but on the plus side, those shares are designated as having come from the radio station, so your friends will know you didn’t hunt down that song on purpose.
If you’ve always wanted to use Spotify on your iPhone or iPad but didn’t want to pay for it, this new radio feature gives you a way to see what some of the fuss is about, without putting up with listening limits or remembering to cancel before the charge shows up on your credit card. Whether you pay or not, if you hear anything you like, you can make it part of your permanent collection on the Spotify desktop. If you eventually choose to start paying, that playlist, along with all of your others, will show up on your mobiles and other devices – a strategy that appears to be working for Spotify so far.