Spotify is considering letting record labels and artists release albums exclusively to its Premium subscribers, blocking them from being accessed by the huge amount of users on its ad-supported service.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal Spotify is going to introduce the restricted service as a test, then measure what happens to both its subscriber base and the free service.
We reported back in August that it was considering placing more restrictions to the ad-supported tier, including reintroducing a listening limit on certain new albums as well as timed exclusives for the Premium service.
Now it looks like those restrictions are becoming more likely as Spotify is both desperate to appease the labels, who see the paid-subscription model as the future of music with the ever-declining sales of physical media cutting into their bottom lines, as well as driving up its own Premium subscription numbers.
Currently, about 80% of Spotify users are rocking the free service, but while Spotify is keen to add to the Premium subscriber base it has long seen the ad-supported tier as the bedrock of its service - and of the music industry as a whole.
"If we build the revenue model around 'freemium'," Spotify CEO Daniel Ek previously told The Guardian, "the music industry will be much larger than it's ever been before, more artists will be able to make a living by being artists and more people will listen in turn."
But with big hitters like Adele and Taylor Swift refusing to allow their libraries on the free service, and with the legal wranglings over the latest Coldplay album, it needs a way to compromise with the labels and artists who see the freemium model as muddying the value of their music.
One of Spotify's key principles has always been about creating a level playing field in the music industry, offering the same user access to the smaller artists as the recording giants. By creating a tiered level, though, it also risks alienating more artists if it gives preferential treatment to a select few.
We still don't know when these new restrictions might come into play as Spotify has yet to release an official statement, but with the rumours growing stronger, 2016 could be a tough year for free music streaming.
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