A couple of weeks ago, I heralded the arrival of Spotify Landmark, a new multimedia feature that tells the stories of historic musical moments, by asking a question: “What if Spotify became the next music magazine?“
The Landmark feature, in this case an audio history of Nirvana’s “In Utero,” might as well have been a magazine feature produced by Rolling Stone, I said. As well as audio clips, it brought together images, video, and text. The package was then distributed to Spotify’s giant audience base via its email newsletter, and it was promoted in the app’s “Discover” section. Given that Spotify has more than 24 million active users, it struck me that it could be a powerful way for pieces of journalism to reach readers.
Today, Spotify took another step towards becoming a full-blown distributor of journalism. With a “Spotlight” feature on emerging pop star Lorde’s new “Pure Heroine” album, Spotify also slipped in an exclusive interview. The interview, which Spotify either commissioned or did in-house, doesn’t carry a by-line. It reads like something that could have appeared in Rolling Stone, Spin, Mojo, or any other music publication.
With these exclusive interviews, Spotify is effectively competing with music publications. It is yet another source of journalism. In some ways, though, it stands to be a better source of that journalism because of its technological advantages. It has immense distribution capabilities, a huge audience, and the ability to pair stories with album listens, videos, or other media, across any device. Of course, for now, it doesn’t have the editorial resources, or media experience or integrity, to be a serious competitor to, say, Rolling Stone. But it might ultimately not want to be.
My guess is that Spotify will continue to offer exclusive interviews and related journalism, but that it will ultimately be just as happy to distribute journalism produced by third parties, just as it does already with, say, Pitchfork’s app, which carries music reviews, and an app by BlueNote, which has a “BlueNote 101″ section providing an overview of different styles and eras of jazz.
Rather than seeing Spotify’s emergence as a journalism distributor as a threat, publications should see it as an opportunity. Thanks to social sharing and reading on mobile devices, the preeminence of the “bundle” is being blown to bits anyway. Stories have to live and travel on their own, even if they have the original publisher’s imprimatur baked into them. Short-term, that might mean giving up some Web traffic or newsstand sales, but the potential long-term consequences – declining audiences, loss of momentum to platforms like Spotify, irrelevance – are much scarier.
It may even be the case that publishers can work with platforms like Spotify to find new ways to monetize journalism. How about asking Spotify users to pay $1 for an exclusive feature on Kanye West? Perhaps such a story could also carry ads. Or maybe Spotify will allow third-party sites to embed their stories into its framework, so that the original publisher still gets the traffic benefit. We’re in the infant days of this new media landscape.
The smart publishers will start experimenting now. The others will sit back and watch as Spotify takes their readers.