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Spotify arrives in the U.S.

After months – make that years – of speculation and false starts, the much-heralded streaming music service Spotify has finally arrived in the U.S.  Spotify is now accepting subscribers for its Premium and Unlimited services, although customers looking for the free option will have to wait in line until the company begins its invitation process over the next few weeks.

Most of the delays in introducing the service on this side of the Atlantic were the result of protracted negotiations with the record labels. There is understandable concern that another mass-market music delivery platform will further devalue an industry still coming to terms with iTunes and other download services.

And there is reason to be worried. Spotify’s experience in Europe suggests that the labels’ share of revenue for each song played will be calculated in fractions of a cent, even as the service undercuts existing revenue sources.

But there is little doubt that the introduction of Spotify will mark another milestone in the transformation of the music business. Rather than selling individual tracks or albums to be downloaded, Spotify will sell monthly access to a vast catalog of music, with whatever songs a listener wants to hear streamed directly to a computer or smartphone.

Users can search the music database by artist, song or album title, or genre, and a drag and drop feature allows the creation of custom playlists, which can then be shared with friends via Facebook.

For now, only the paid subscription options are available. The Unlimited option costs $4.99 a month and provides for unlimited ad-free streaming. At $9.99 a month, the Premium option adds access to a smartphone, higher audio quality, and the ability to store music so it can also be played offline.

Because of its delayed launch in the U.S., Spotify faces some well-established competition. Services such as Pandora, Rhapsody and MOG all offer their own version of music streaming, and Apple, Google and Amazon have recently introduced cloud services to make their download options more flexible. Where Spotify may have the edge is in speed and the simplicity of its user interface.

However, critics argue that Spotify has built its European popularity on the back of its free option, which has yet to be made available in the U.S. and which will come with significant strings attached. For the first six months, the user will be restricted to 20 hours of free music a month, after which the limit drops to just 10 hours a month. In addition, no one song can be streamed more than five times in that same one-month period.

Certainly the idea of unlimited access to millions of songs anytime, anywhere is an appealing one, and, in many ways, Spotify represents the ultimate achievement in all the amazing advances that have been made in digital music over the last 10 years. Whether people will pay $120 a year for the privilege of sharing in that achievement remains to be seen.

Comment by Online Moms, posted 7/16/2011, 3:27 AM:

Was waiting for Spotify now for a long time. Good to hear that finally it has arrived here at USA. It will be very useful for all music lovers with a huge collection of songs. Looking forward to get a feel of it soon.
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