All good things must come to long, brutal, contractually negotiated end.
Spotify announced on Tuesday a new deal that includes the provision that some new albums will only be available to paying subscribers for the first two weeks.
The news stands as a turning point in the recent history of digital music, which has seen the industry as a whole endure a significant nose dive that is only now starting to improve.
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek clarified on Twitter (in response to a tweet from Recode‘s Peter Kafka) that new albums will only be behind the Spotify paywall on artist’s request.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small concession — but one that Spotify refused to budge on for years. Spotify’s pitch had been that, by having a great platform with all the best and newest music for free, they’d attract listeners and eventually convert them into paying subscribers (which is essential for the business-viability of both Spotify and the music industry).
That had remained a sticking point between Spotify and labels. On Tuesday, Spotify officially took a step over what had once been a deep line in the sand. Universal Music Group’s new deal with Spotify includes the two-week provision, though it’s unclear if other labels will get the same deal.
Universal is home to many of the biggest acts in music, including Katy Perry, Maroon 5, Arianna Grande, and, yes, the anti-Spotify queen herself, Taylor Swift.
Swift emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of Spotify’s hardline stance on letting unpaid users listen to all music. She pulled the bulk of her music off Spotify in late 2014 after a disagreement over her album 1989.
Could Swift’s music return to Spotify now that the company blinked? Maybe. A representative for Universal declined to comment, and an inquiry to Swift’s camp was not immediately returned.
Swift is far from the only artist to attack Spotify (and digital music distribution in general), but the music industry’s tune has changed in the past couple years.
Streaming music revenue — primarily coming from Spotify, Apple Music, Google (via YouTube), and a few others — now makes up more than half of the industry’s revenue for the first time, according to 2016 data from the Recording Industry Association of America.
For Spotify, the move solidifies its economics and puts it on track to go public in 2018.