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Adele’s Relationship With Spotify: It’s Complicated

Spotify is friend to many artists, but (as we well know) not all. As SPIN has reported previously, there’ve been a number of big-name artists to turn their noses up at streaming catalog services like Spotify and Rhapsody, for myriad reasons of varying levels of merit. In December, the Black Keys bitched that the platforms haven’t figured out a way to make them as much money as royalties do, and that paltry streaming profits benefit labels over artists. Coldplay held back Mylo Xyloto from the services when it dropped last fall, only to quietly add it a few months later. They never gave an explicit reason, but presumably it was to force initial album sales.

However, according to a Fast Company report, the situation was different with Adele, the other big name whose recent album, the über-Grammy’d 21, is unavailable on Spotify and other freemium streaming sites. Apparently, the Adele camp actually agreed to streaming — provided that Spotify only make it available to subscribers, who fork over 10 bucks a month to use the service ad-free and on mobiles. It’s a surprise to many who assumed they, like those in charge of Coldplay and the Black Keys’ releases, cut streaming services out altogether.

So why isn’t 21 on Spotify? The platform’s whole business model relies on one catalog, not two. Adele’s camp’s proposal, to only allow paying customers to hear the record, assumes that the service has a paid catalog as well as a free catalog, which just isn’t the way Spotify works. Spotify essentially has one catalog, and customers pay not for extra content but for the removal of ads, offline playlists, and mobile listening. If the service wanted to stream 21 it would have had to upend its entire strategy — which is a big ask. So 21 is now only available on streaming services that do offer separate catalogs for freemium and premium content, like Rhapsody. (Paul McCartney has likewise been selective about his streaming, though we might chalk this one up to technophobia on his camp’s part).

So is Spotify at fault? As Fast Company sees it, the service is the one responsible for its listeners’ lack of Adele. But instead of skirting the issue like the Black Keys, Adele’s camp tried to supersede the whole point of the service, so they can’t be too shocked their plan wasn’t accepted. Can anyone blame Spotify?