Today Rhapsody announced that it is launching free playback through an integration with Twitter’s audio cards. It works this way: if you are a subscriber and share a song, album or playlist on Twitter, anyone following you can play it for free in the Twitter mobile app.
It’s a pretty smart integration that solves a few problems for the service:
- It encourages Rhapsody’s users to share music with all their friends. This is something that Spotify has done very successfully with its social tools baked into the app.
- It gives artists an opportunity to drive potential customers to Rhapsody from their social channels, which could create an additional revenue stream for artists.
- It is focused on mobile plays, which is where a majority of listening has migrated to and where Rhapsody’s potential customers hang out.
- It limits the amount of free music by pegging the free playback to someone with an account and followers on Twitter. You can only listen on Twitter, which is very different than the all-free, all-the-time Spotify offerings.
- It gets Rhapsody in the news, as you can see by all the press the company has generated by announcing the integration at SXSW today.
Chief Financial Officer Ethan Rudin says that the project is an experiment in the US. He had a couple press quotes that seemed a bit off target.
“It’s going to be a huge experiment in how we make music social again,” Rudin told Geekwire’s Todd Bishop.
“Music has been a bit of red-headed stepchild” on social, Rudin told CNET’s Joan Solsman.
I think he forgot to add the phrase ‘on Rhapsody’ to both of those points.
One could argue that Spotify’s ability fuel enormous grow is because of its very slick social functions coupled with the a mass number of users. Meanwhile, Rhapsody’s loyal and active customers listen to tons of music in the service, but without sharing of that playback it’s locked in a vacuum. It’s been a weakness that the service has yet to address in its decade plus existence.
The integration looks nice. But it still requires Rhapsody user to do the work to help the company mine Twitter for customers. What has made Spotify so damn sticky is that its social features are automatic and on by default. On its service, you have to opt out to not share. Meanwhile Rhapsody requires that you tweet your heart out about your favorite songs to let everyone know what you’re listening to.
I must point out that Rhapsody has been extremely critical of free music over the years. As Spotify has grown enormously over the past couple of years Rhapsody has ratcheted up the attacks on free music.
When the Taylor Swift vs Spotify controversy was at its peak, Rhapsody Board of Directors Co-Chairmen Rob Glaser and Jason Epstein authored an opinion piece in Billboard that called free music “throwing out the baby with the bath water.” Ethan Rudin last summer told Buzzfeed that free streaming services send the wrong message to potential customers. “If you continually offer somebody the perpetually free model, they’re always going to opt not to pay for it,” is the way Rudin put it.
It should also be noted that today you cannot play on-demand tracks for free on Spotify’s mobile app, but you can play anything on the Rhapsody catalog for free on Twitter. So what happened to aligning around 100 percent paid music?
Look, I get it. A company can change its mind. Business conditions always change and if you don’t adapt, you have a good chance at being swept away. But what is equally important is that we believe in what you say. Consistency is extremely important in the music business, as it has a checkered past.
Scoring points on your competitors for giving away music while planning your own free music offering does smack a bit of talking out of both sides of ones mouth. To say the least.
Disclosure: I worked at Rhapsody for nine years before leaving in September of 2013.