European music streaming service Spotify has finally buckled to economic necessity and announced plans to dramatically limit the volume of unpaid music than can be consumed by non-subscribers.
The changes will come as a shock to heavy users of the free service. From 1 May, free users who signed up before 1 November 2010 will be limited to playing any track a maximum of five times with a limit of 10 hours total listening time per month, equivalent to around 200 songs.
For users who signed up after 1 November, the changes will be applied six months after their sign-up date.
"It's vital that we continue offering an on-demand free service to you and millions more like you, but to make that possible we have to put some limits in place going forward," read Spotify's blog announcement.
The change in terms signals that the company's model of offering free play in return for listening to adverts has finally cracked. Signs of stress have been apparent for some time. Ads used to sound like ads. Recently more and more have sounded like a way or harassing users to upgrade to the paid service on pain of tedium.
Despite being a good deal Spotify has the same problem that all such 'all you can eat' services suffer from. The people most likely to sign up are music-lovers but they tend to notice what's not there as much as what is. Spotify has some blank areas musically and these don't go unnoticed.
The cult faux-disco hit of the early 1980s Last Night a DJ Saved My Life is available only in cover versions, complains one user on a music forum. Another moans about the absence of almost the entirety of Scott McKenzie's back catalogue. And what about those coveted 45prm versions of the SOS band's greatest hits? At the bare minimum, it seems, a music streaming service must cover the worst excesses of 1980's funk cross-over.
Users more concerned that the service support itself economically were more positive about the move.
"Stop complaining. You can't get everything for free. Just dig down and pay those 49 SEK a month it costs to get rid of the limitations and commercials. It's worth it you know.," opined a Swedish fan.
The company hopes that the change will tempt Spotify addicts to upgrade to the Unlimited service at £4.99 per month or the Premium £9.99 per month. These also offer better music quality and other benefits.