Spotify's subscription rejig could be great news for budget-conscious music fans

Spotify screenshot
(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

I recently wrote an article charting my time with Spotify’s new playlist-compiling AI helper, in which I explained that I wasn’t necessarily convinced that I or anyone else would want to delegate my curation duties to a semi-sentient algorithm that could, when it wasn’t pulling together “pop tracks to play in the background as you deliver bad news to a work colleague”, one day destroy the world. Even so, I wasn’t down on the idea of the popular platform branching out into areas beyond pure music streaming. 

The idea of Spotify widening its net to become a Swiss-army-knife outlet from which you can access audiobooks, download your music and access higher (if not outstanding) levels of music quality isn’t something that irks me in and of itself. This is mainly because I’m a frequent user who makes regular two-hour trips to our Reading office around the gruelling turmoil that is the M25, so it’s nice to have distractions other than my selection of grunge rocks classics and the incessant voices in my own head to keep me sane during my weekly commute. A full recording of I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan read by the author, plus every episode of the broadcasting legend’s Knowing Me Knowing You? at the tips of my ears? Back of the net!

The problem I (and judging from our forums, many of our readers) have with Spotify’s structure is that there doesn’t appear to be a middle ground for the more casual user. The most-used music service in the world caused a recent stir by hiking its prices once again to a rather whopping £13 a month (it's still $11 in the US), with its Duo plan increasing by £2 to £17 for two listeners. Of course, you can still listen for free, but you’ll have to sacrifice a lot more than just audiobooks and AI assistants if you’re going to go fully gratis: no more playing songs in any order, no more downloading music, limited mobile playback and, of course, there are adverts. 

The recent news that Spotify is considering a "music only" subscription tier, then, can't come soon enough. While I might be happy with the extra bells and whistles that Spotify has continued to add over the past year or so, I completely understand that many users feel that they’re being charged more for extras that they never wanted or asked for in the first place. Audiobooks are nice to have, but if you just want to listen to music properly without ads or interruptions, it’s either go full price, go free, or go elsewhere. Spotify increasingly sees itself as a multi-channel content provider, but many of its users subscribe predominantly to access convenient music streaming at a decent price without intrusive adverts. 

Spotify screenshot

Spotify's range of plans vary more depending on potential users rather than the amount of content delivered. (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

This, hopefully, is where Spotify's "music only" tier comes in. It isn’t outrageous to ask for something to occupy a happy medium, especially as many mainstream video streaming services are doing exactly that. Disney Plus now splits its service into three main tiers, with an ad-enabled version costing £5 / $8, a Premium, 4K HDR version costing £11 / $14, and a middle-way Standard plan setting you back a reasonable £8 / $8. In terms of rival music services, Amazon offers a middle-way "Amazon Music Prime" tier that drops Ultra HD tracks and spatial audio but still offers an ad-free experience to existing Prime subscribers.  

What's interesting to see, however, is whether Spotify now loads its high-cost Premium tier (currently your only choice if you want to avoid ads and a very stripped-back platform) with proper hi-res streaming and/or spatial audio support, the former of which many of our team (some more vociferously than others) have been craving for years. That would naturally open up room for a middle-ground tier from which users could access standard quality streaming without the irritating adverts and random playback jumbling you have to endure with the free plan. 

Whatever the case, it doesn't seem fair that many users are being charged an increased rate not simply because of rising operation costs but because Spotify seems intent on bundling in features that few users actively need or even asked for. Hiking prices because of rising running costs makes more sense, but if you're going to do so and then justify the increase on the basis that you're providing more content, it had better be content that most people actually want. Spotify, by the way, continues to report gross profits in the billions of Euros, so it's probably not a company that's feeling the pinch right now.

A Goldilocks option only seems logical to appease fans disgruntled at yet another price hike, especially if Spotify is to avoid many of its customers defecting to rival services such as Apple Music, Amazon Prime or, of course, Tidal – the latter of which is, as of recently, offering higher quality audio at a lower price than a Spotify Premium subscription. Extraneous add-ons are all well and good, but if you're a genuine audiophile, there doesn't seem to be much incentive to stick with the team in green.

With a music-only tier seemingly on the way, this could indicate a mini-market trend of streaming-centric companies giving users access to their content via more diversified means, be it Netflix proposing a cheaper, ad-enabled tier or Disney bundling together content with Hulu and ESPN at a lower rate than paying for each service separately. Large corporations may finally be realising that customer loyalty is often strained as prices rise and are thus seeking ways to keep users onside. In this economic climate, that can only be a good thing.

MORE:

Spotify HiFi: release date news, price prediction, quality, and latest rumours

I spent a week playing with Spotify's AI playlist curator, and things got a little strange

Read our original Spotify review

Check out our picks of the best music streaming services

The overlooked Spotify feature that delivers chaotically brilliant playlists based on your friends' listening history

Harry McKerrell
Staff writer

Harry McKerrell is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. He studied law and history at university before working as a freelance journalist covering TV and gaming for numerous platforms both online and in print. When not at work he can be found playing hockey, practising the piano or forcing himself to go long-distance running.

  • bradavon
    Spotify have never said they're considering High Res. It's CD Quality Lossless we can expect, eventually.

    I was cool with the increase to £11 but another rise to £12 (it's £11.99) is plain unreasonable.

    Audiobooks are nice but I'll only use them occasionally.

    The audio quality is still terrible compared to Amazon Music and Tidal's extensive CD Quality Lossless and High Res catalogue.

    Spotify badly needs to bring out a cheaper music/podcasts only tier. For me I know it's only £1 more but £12 is asking more for niche services.

    I've switched to Tidal for the most part and am considering do I need Spotify for the Discover Weekly playlist and Audiobooks. I've had Spotify Premium for over a decade but it's definitely on notice.

    You can get Podcasts for free with apps like Pocket Casts.

    I had Amazon Music for 6 months untill Tidal dropped their pricing. It's fine I suppose but the app is slow and basic. Now Tidal is the same price is a lot better.

    Apple makes it nearly impossible to actually listen to their High Res without a cable. Their Apple TV boxes don't support it and AirPlay is Lossy.
    Reply
  • jimmyvail
    This article is hilarious. Even Spotify doesn’t know what it wants to do. Apple then Tidal have stolen their lunch money.
    Spotify is being outmaneuvered every year . They are pathetic.
    Reply
  • bradavon
    jimmyvail said:
    This article is hilarious. Even Spotify doesn’t know what it wants to do. Apple then Tidal have stolen their lunch money.
    Spotify is being outmaneuvered every year . They are pathetic.
    Yes except in usage. Sotify is still by far the most popular.

    Agreed with the sentiment though.
    Reply
  • jimmyvail
    bradavon said:
    Yes except in usage. Sotify is still by far the most popular.

    Agreed with the sentiment though.

    Spotify is popular because they have Spotify Connect and fantastic playlists with artist discovery.
    Their audio quality is horrendous.
    Reply
  • Terry Webb
    I have been subscribing to Spotify for some years now and when I started my sub's it was for the music There was no extras back then and I was happy with the just music arrangement. Now it's videos, podcasts, audiobooks and what appears to be another add-on "courses". I don't need or want any additional add-ons. So please, Mr Ek, just a music only option would be nice.
    Reply