Spotify, a Swedish music streaming site already popular in Europe, today lands in the US, and people are clambering for an invite. Here's how it works: Spotify is basically a giant cloud of millions of songs, which can be played from a range of different devices. (It's kind of like an all-you-can-eat iTunes, but you can't download the tracks.) As of this afternoon, folks in the US can sign up for a free Beta trial, or they can fork over for a paid monthly subscription.
Unlimited access on multiple devices goes for $10 a month, and unlimited access for your desktop goes for $5. Pretty dang cheap. Unsurprisingly, the service has proved to be a hit among critics.
"You know something is good when it feels illegal," Donald Bell writes in a rave review over at CNET. "Such is the case with Spotify, the on-demand music-streaming service that seems too good to be true – or certainly, too good to be free. Yet, here it is, the 'celestial jukebox' we've been dreaming of since the days of illegally gorging on the original Napster." Bell, of course, isn't the first techie to compare Spotify with Napster in its heyday.
In fact, no less a personage than Napster founder – and Spotify investor – Sean Parker has come forward to announced that Spotify "represents the realization of a dream." Writing on his Facebook wall, Parker said he had waited for a "decade" for "a music service that could rekindle my excitement about music by enabling music to be shared freely across the world – all the while empowering artists to reap the economic benefits of selling their music."
But will Spotify have the same cultural ballast as Napster? Well, over at the Wall Street Journal, Ben Rooney runs through some of the problems Spotify is likely to face in the US market: piracy, and competitors such as Pandora, Grooveshark, and Mog. Oh yeah! And also: Apple. "Apple is a very domineering player in digital music and it doesn’t give the music labels much negotiation room," one analyst told Rooney.
Fair enough. At the same time, Spotify is landing in the US on a great big groundswell of hype, which gives the platform a major boost. Witness the celebrity endorsements from the likes of Britney Spears – "so excited!" Spears tweeted – and the stunningly dense Google traffic surrounding the Spotify launch.
This could be a "celestial jukebox" worth watching.