Spotify's Dilema: Are their free accounts the enemy of the music industry?

Since its beginnings, Spotify has been waging an ongoing battle against its own free streaming option. When Spotify first launched more than 10 years ago, free was the only option users had. Simply sign up and receive a wealth of music at your fingertips. The free service has always been propped up by advertising, but after a number of high-profile disputes with both artists and labels over royalties, the Swedish-based company has forever been trying its best to maintain its foothold in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

And while you may think that getting rid of the free option would solve their woes, they actually tried this a number of years ago, losing thousands of customers to rival paid sites in the process. So ever since, Spotify have been trying numerous ways to coax their free members over to their premium accounts by interfering with their subscriptions. Originally it was simply a case of limited song plays. Once you listened to a song five times, that was your lot. Then came the 20-hour-a-month listening cap, but just as always, users quickly found their ways round the cap and reverted to simply torrent or streaming music on YouTube.

This behaviour by its users has always been the company's catch-22. Rather than simply pay up for a premium account, their users would rather just find another means to listen to music for free. Resulting in loss of ad revenue to both Spotify and its record label associates. But now, the streaming service seem set on adding a new deterrent to their arsenal. Within the next few weeks, plans will go ahead to limit the access of new music to the free accounts. These users will soon have to wait two weeks after an album's release date in order to hear it, hoping that they can finally reach a deal that will both keep users on the site as well as bring more of them over to the premium side. But with new research being unveiled earlier this week, looking into people's streaming habits, it may prove to be a wasted effort.

In a survey, conducted by Launchleap earlier this week, it seems that making content unavailable doesn't really do much at all. While the research showed that the majority of 18-35 year olds who stream their media prefer to do it from a legitimate source (70% in fact), 53% of those asked said that they would illegal torrent material if it wasn't available through their traditional formats. Meaning that even if Spotify did introduce this new diversion, more than half of their free users would still head outside their service in order to find it anyway. Almost defeating the point of their exercise.

Although we all know that the real problem here has always been the access to free music. Ever since the days of Napster and Limewire, the music industry has always been on the back foot when it comes to how people wish to digest their material. We've gone decades now where the idea of having music and not paying for it still remains a rampant part of our intake of what we listen to. Which now begs the question, "How much is music actually worth?"

Now I'm not going to get into any deep discussion about music sales and a dying industry, because it has all been said before. But what Spotify and all other streaming services need to do is continue their approach at inviting as many people to use their services as possible. Because as the research and history suggests, given half the chance, we would steal it and not think of anyone out of pocket. Even if people aren't willing to pay for it, the free accounts that Spotify provide have become a stable offensive against the world of illegal downloading, and at least offer some kind of recoup for the artists involved. But rather than take the tiny royalties streaming services pay out to artists as unfair compromise, maybe we should finally accept that the value of new music is not as much as it used to be.