Today, I got an email from Spotify with the subject line “This Week’s New Music,” one of the few newsletters I ever bother to open. The top item in the email was a promo for a story about Nirvana’s “In Utero,” a feature to mark the 20th anniversary re-issue of the album.
The “story,” in this case, is actually a series of radio interviews with people who were involved with “In Utero” or had behind-the-scenes knowledge of the album, from producer Steve Albini to former Nirvana bass player Krist Novoselic. It includes a YouTube embed of the “In Utero” promo video, and an excerpt of a story about the album from Rolling Stone.
The production is attributed to “Spotify Landmark,” which Spotify describes as “the story behind some of the greatest moments in music, told by the people who made them.” The show, Spotify says, presents a “listening history of legendary albums, concerts and events.”
Spotify Landmark is apparently new. Before receiving the email, I had never heard of it, and I couldn’t find any mention of it via Google searches. Its artist page on Spotify had only 112 followers when I checked it at about 1.30pm EST. So it’s difficult to know what plans Spotify has for the feature. But its arrival hints at something significant for the future of the music streaming service and its potential as a media platform.
What strikes me about this Nirvana piece is that it could just as easily be a magazine feature. As it is, the text within the story page serves as mere glue for the audio clips, which carry the weight of the story. But I don’t see any good reason why it couldn’t serve as a host for a well-reported, text-based feature about the album, perhaps done by an existing magazine like Rolling Stone, or perhaps by a writer commissioned by Spotify.
All the elements are there: nice design, an ability to add multimedia elements, and distribution to a potentially enormous readership, reachable via Spotify’s newsletter, its “Discover” tab, its app platform, or through following an “artist” (in this case Spotify Landmark) or playlist.
By asking if Spotify could be a music magazine, I’m being deliberately mischievous. I mean, it could be, if it wanted to invest resources in editorial, but that seems an unlikely direction for a company whose chief focus is on technology. But actually, what Spotify is becoming is something much more powerful than a magazine, or a radio program, or a TV show. It is a platform, wielding the clout of distribution, the hooks of social, and the power of a marketplace. (Indeed, its platform power is the reason I’ve argued that the future of magazines should look a lot like Spotify, and it’s why I think similar platforms like Oyster, a “Netflix for books,” are so compelling.)
Today, Spotify Landmark is just a neat feature that demonstrates how Spotify can help a story reach a wide audience, perhaps simultaneously helping to promote a new album available on the service. Tomorrow, maybe we’ll see a magazine like Rolling Stone distributing a cover story via the platform, available for free to Spotify subscribers (in which case you’d expect Spotify to pay Rolling Stone for the privilege), or for $1.99, seeing as Spotify already has your credit card details (in which case, you’d expect a revenue-sharing agreement).
I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it until the publishing world has fully adapted to this ongoing tectonic shift in media: In a world in which digital content is increasingly being distributed via all-you-can-eat platforms like Spotify, Netflix, and Oyster at the same time as social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Digg, and email are pushing content to people rather than the other way around, and as we increasingly consume media on one-thing-at-a-time mobile devices, the “bundle” doesn’t matter nearly as much as it did in the print or Web 2.0 eras.
Homepages are becoming less relevant.
Stories have to stand on their own.
Content owners have to get used to the idea that their carefully curated packages are being blown to bits.
It’s time for publishers to start experimenting with new forms of distribution. And the first thing they should do is take a close look at what’s happening with Spotify Landmark.