Taylor Swift vs. Spotify: A Product Manager Problem

by drjim on November 17, 2014

Product managers at Spotify have a problem on their hands

Product managers at Spotify have a problem on their hands

Image Credit: Scott Beale

Guess what: we don’t buy music any more. Nope, gone are the days that we’d go out to the store and pay US$15 for the latest album from our favorite artist. iTunes and downloadable music pretty much killed this market. However, it turns out that something brand new has shown up that is killing iTunes and the downloadable music market: Spotify.

Why Doesn’t Taylor Swift Like Spotify?

In the brave new world of streaming music you and I no longer purchase music. Instead, what we do is we sign up for a subscription to a music streaming service. There are a number of them with names that we all recognize now: Pandora, Beats, Spotify, etc. For a fee these services will allow us to tell them what kind of music we like (Rock, Country, Soul, etc.) and they’ll pick out music that matches our tastes and create a never ending sound track for us to listen to. Clearly this has altered the product development definition for music products.

This new form of music consumption has been growing like a weed. The RIAA reports that streaming services like Spotify grew 28% in the first-half of 2014 alone and now account for 27% of industry revenue. However, because it is brand new, this means that all of the rules have not yet been determined and that’s why Taylor Swift is in a fight with Spotify.

So what happened here? Simply put Taylor Swift had a new album come out, 1989, and she and her record company wanted to maximize sales. Her record company talked with Spotify and asked them to limit which of their customers could listen to her new music. First they wanted only paying customers of Spotify (the ones who pay to not hear any ads) to be able to listen to her music. Next, they only wanted customers in Europe where Taylor Swift is trying to build a fan base to be able to hear her new music. Spotify said no and so she pulled her music off of their service.

What Should The Spotify Product Managers Do?

As a product manager, anytime a supplier is unable to provide you with the parts that you need, you’ve got a problem on your hands. Clearly Taylor Swift provides a product that Spotify customers enjoy. With her no longer being willing to provide that product, this places Spotify and its product managers in a difficult position that’s not going to look good on their product manager resume. If they don’t do something, then there is a good chance that at least some of their customers may leave them for other services who do have Taylor Swift products.

What these product managers are going to have to realize is that what their customer’s really want is music that sounds like Taylor Swift. If they can’t have the real thing, then can they have something that sounds close? This is where the power of playlists can come to the aid of Spotify’s product managers. For you see, because subscribers leave it up to Spotify to pick what the next song that they’ll listen to will be, the concept of playlists was created. A subscriber can create a playlist based on an artist or a theme and then Spotify will pick the sequence of music that matches that playlist.

Since Spotify can no longer provide Taylor Swift songs as a part of a subscriber’s playlist selections, the product managers are going to have to get creative. They’ve already started doing this. Spotify has posted playlists, “A Little Playlist Poetry for Taylor Swift,” and, “What to Play While Taylor’s Away,” including songs from Sam Hunt and Ed Sheeran, to help Swift’s fans cope. I would suggest that Spotify product managers should go out and find a singer who sounds just like Taylor Swift and have that performer create covers of Taylor’s songs (legally) and then substitute those songs and even new ones where they’ve had to pull Taylor’s songs. What a great opportunity for some unknown artist!

What Does All Of This Mean For You?

As product managers, we are at the mercy of our product’s suppliers. If they stop providing us with what we need to create our product, it is going to have a big impact on the type of product and the quantity of products that we can offer to our customers. The Spotify product managers are facing a situation like this that was never a part of their product manager job description because recording artist Taylor Swift has decided to pull her entire catalog of songs off of the Spotify service.

What this means for the Spotify product managers is that when their subscribers have playlists that include Taylor Swift songs, they won’t be able to hear what they want to hear. This means that the Spotify product managers are going to have to provide substitutes. It might even open a door for these product managers to find an artist who sounds like Taylor Swift to create songs to fill in the gap.

When a supplier is either unwilling or unable to provide us with the parts that we need in order to create our product, a product manager must take action. We don’t want to stop providing our product. Instead, we need to find alternatives to the supply that is no longer available. This is exactly what the Spotify product managers need to do. It appears as though they are already taking action to do this and they just might be able to create a service that can get along without Taylor Swift being a part of it.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: If a supplier can no longer deliver their product, do you think that you need to inform your customers?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I’ve recently been working with a startup company that is in the business of offering software as a service. This is a fantastic company that I believe has a lot of future potential. They never had any product management talent before they asked me to help them out. What I found and what I had to do says a lot about the world of startups!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Haig December 4, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Very interesting topic. First time I had seen that Spotify had refused Taylor’s request.

The article seemed to be written more for SEO than an actual reader. I would have liked more ‘meat’ in it.

Reply

drjim December 4, 2014 at 10:18 pm

Haig: Sorry that you wanted more “meat”. This topic has been covered in a lot of other publications; however, nobody had explored what the Spotify product managers needed to do. No SEO play here — I’m just writing for product managers!

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Dan December 5, 2014 at 3:21 pm

It would be interesting to do a Porter’s Five Forces analysis here. Clearly, there’s strong supplier power with individual artists and labels. A key question is: for what % of Spotify subscribers would a substitute product satisfy their needs? In this case, music is such a personal, emotional force, that I don’t believe buyers act as rational economists would. I believe that of those subscribers who like Taylor Swift, a significant % would not find a substitute acceptable. Time will tell!

Reply

drjim December 11, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Dan: Good point. I guess that this would come down to customers deciding if not having Taylor Swift is worth not having Spotify. If you’ve created a lot of Spotify customization, you’ll be less likely to leave…

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