This year, I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about the move to streaming services by both individuals and libraries. This was highlighted best in our trip across the US this past March, where there are several providers for streaming films, TV, and music. Other countries have a more limited range of services, not only because of the complexity of negotiating licensing rights, but because of more limited broadband or more established players (e.g. – here in the UK Lovefilm (owned by Amazon) is squarely up against Sky and Virgin TV. Netflix due in 2012).

All year, I’ve been mulling over the promise and benefits of online streaming. In theory, it’s great – you get to consume media that you probably only wanted to watch once, at a lower price than physical or purchased media, and it’s near instant. The growth of these services is a no-brainer. Yet if not matched by a service that offers excellent discovery, search, and a way to record what you have watched or listened to in the past, the benefits of these services becomes very limited.

I have had a Spotify premium account for a while now. I chose the service because I wanted access to offline playlists and the mobile app. Yet, I am now exporting my playlists and planning to cancel the service and go back to a free account. While it’s extremely convenient to have a massive range of songs at my fingertips, there are just too many downsides to a service that is not as one-time watch as streaming a TV episode or movie:

  • Discovery in Spotify is terrible. Similar artists is very limited, there is no way to plug in a few favourites and discover new artists like you can with Pandora. Often, I listen to albums in Spotify for a while to see if I want to purchase them. I will return to using preview options on Boomkat and iTunes instead.
  • I already purchase a lot of music (mostly vinyl, bundled with digital download). When I moved to the UK I format-shifted all my CDs (the CDs are currently in storage) and they are currently stored across several hard drives. After a while of using Spotify, I realised that most of my playlists were albums I had already purchased on CD or vinyl.
  • Search is cumbersome, and not possible when offline. After a while, you end up with huge lists of playlists – the only way to easily find an artist or album. Too much manual scrolling when search is not available.
  • Albums disappear. Several times, albums in my playlist have become unavailable in the UK.
  • Three device limit even for premium users for offline playlists on the mobile app. Seriously frustrating to sit down on a plane for a long flight only to open Spotify and be greeted with a cheery message that all your playlists are gone because you exceeded the device limit.
  • Spotify uses P2P to upstream content to reduce load on its servers. It affects performance of other network-tasks while working. This alone is a reason to cancel.
  • Artist compensation per play is extremely low.
  • Lastly, iCloud has arrived. Yes, it is really great to buy an album and have it automatically appear on my iPad as well. And to be able to add it to my Android phone since the files are DRM free.

So what’s the lesson here? For me, it has reinforced how important discovery is to my enjoyment of music. I find new music from recommendations, reviews, podcasts, and radio. As yet, there’s no great tool that allows me to aggregate albums I’m interested in buying or recommendations to look up. For now, it’s back to the old way – scribbling down details heard on the radio in a plain text file.

Originally published on the semanticlibrary.net blog