Do More People Use Apple Music than Spotify? Only If You Live in the Past.
A couple of weeks ago, Apple announced that the number of paid subscribers to their Apple Music service passed Spotify's total in the US (source: WSJ / paywall).
I called bullshit.
(Seems that Apple is still living in the past, and decided not to let the facts ruin their announcement: Spotify announced yesterday that it passed the 100 million paid subscriber line, while Apple Music is at around 50 million (source: CNET).
Three reasons why I didn’t believe Apple’s announcement:
Despite Apple's beautiful hardware design, the world has seen the decline of Apple's software and services go from "It just works!" to "They just suck!” over the past few years. While Apple's apps have always been highly innovative first movers (iTunes / Apple Music is a prime example), they have largely become inferior, feature-bloated and frustrating to use relative to category-specific alternatives (see Maps, Cloud, Mail, Pages, iBooks and others for examples).
I not only haven't seen or heard of many people using Apple Music in a long time, but also because many now proclaim that Spotify has become the music industry. Spotify has been credited by many for “saving the music industry” (Freakonomics), “changing the way people listen to music” (Product Habits Blog) and also “has (it) ruined music?” (The Guardian).
I also saw this Apple announcement as part of a grand strategy by their marketing, PR and investor relations team to systematically create a credible narrative that their Services business was growing now that iPhone sales are slowing down.
So I did what any strategist or reporter would - I conducted some research. I got some quantitative data by asking my colleagues, friends, social media following and LinkedIn connections to let me know what they use and why. I also asked each group that I've given a talk to over the past few weeks to tell me what they use. And also did more qualitative research through conversations with more people.
N ~200 responses. Sample was largely based in the US Northeast, but ~25% of respondents were scattered across rest of USA. Choices were Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, Tidal, Amazon, Google Play. More than 1 of the above or Other. (Probably wouldn’t hold up in a court of law, but Bobby Axelrod makes big investment decisions with far less intel on Billions, and he's doing OK. )
(Full disclosure - I’ve been an Apple fanboy for a very long time. No Android in my world, and Microsoft is a four-letter-word to me (long story). I love Apple but cannot stand what has become of their software. Also - remember when they tried to build a social network into iTunes? It’s their version of Microsoft Clippy.)
Here's what I learned (WARNING: #nerdalert):
MORE THAN 2x USE SPOTIFY vs APPLE MUSIC. Of the approx. 200 people who responded, 48% use Spotify, and only 18% use Apple Music. So while my sample size is small, and we live in a country whose citizens elected Trump, two Bushes, trust people named Kardashian, watch any show with “CSI” in the title, and still can’t enact gun control legislation because the NRA has more power than Congress has courage, I still don’t believe Apple’s stats.
PEOPLE LOVE SPOTIFY. GREAT UX , MUSIC DISCOVERY, ARTIST UPDATES + PLAYLISTING = BIG WIN. A variation of the quote below is what I heard from many people.
“SPOTIFY!! I pay the 9.99 a month for premium. I love its ability to discover new music i.e. the 'Discover Weekly' playlist, the playlists they make just for you, and the playlists they have by genre. I also love how after you play your own playlist, Spotify will play songs related to that playlist (more new music to discover!). Plus you can follow artists and get notifications of when they are playing (live) near you.”
SPOTIFY USERS WERE ALMOST ALL APPLE / iTUNES USERS. Many Spotify users added comments that they started on iTunes but then gave up Apple for a number of reasons like inferior user experience, clunky interface / design and annoying how their CD collection that had been burned to iTunes was vaporized. Lets face it - almost everyone used iTunes at one point with their iPod / iPhone. Except those who had a Microsoft Zune (and they all worked for Microsoft or were the unlucky winner of a contest).
NO ONE SAID ANYTHING REMOTELY LIKE “I LOVE APPLE MUSIC! HERE’S WHY…” The people that use it all mentioned integration with Siri, difficulty of switching to another platform, or Spotify’s onerous economic arrangements with artists as their reason for using Apple Music. Not one person was a passionate fan of Apple Music or cited a feature they couldn’t live without. This is the herd of elephants wandering the halls of Apple’s sexy new building - and shitting on the immaculate floors.
HIPSTERS ARE ON SOUNDCLOUD. AND THEY WERE THERE FIRST. A few people mentioned that they (also) use Soundcloud, mainly to discover new alternative artists that aren’t on “mainstream” streaming platforms. And you’re probably not cool enough to use Soundcloud.
MORE THAN ONLY JAY-Z's FRIENDS + FAMILY USE TIDAL.
TIDAL! About 5% of respondents claim to use it. Mainly because of the free subscription they got with their phone. A couple people mentioned that TIdal’s sound quality makes a difference to them. None of the respondents were named Beyonce.
THE SPOTIFY FAMILY PLAN IS GENIUS. AS IS THE FREE HULU. Of the Spotify users, 75% of them are on the paid family subscription that allows multiple users. This might just be one of the most powerful marketing moves they’ve made. As is giving paid users free Hulu subscriptions.
MANY PAY FOR APPLE MUSIC - BUT FORGOT THEY DID AND DON’T USE IT. More than a few people told me that this question prompted them to see if they still pay for Apple Music even though they never use it. Myself included.
MILLENNIALS + GEN Z ARE (ALMOST) ALL ON SPOTIFY. All but one person under the age of 30 who responded is a Spotify subscriber. I speak a lot at Boston area colleges / business schools, and one of the questions I ask in every talk as an icebreaker is “which streaming service do you use? - show of hands.” It’s always nearly unanimous for Spotify, with a couple exceptions. Who were probably sleeping through my talk.
GOOGLE DOESN’T GET PLAYED. Two people said they use Google Play. Three listen to music on YouTube.
PANDORA LIVES. A few people (5%) still use Pandora. Most said they use the free version. And they know that their friends will give them grief for it.
What do you think? Which service do you use? If you have a minute, please Take this brief survey to let me know and increase the sample size.