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November 4, 2015

What can the arts learn from Spotify’s paid subscribers?

"Mello Beats," one of my favorite playlists on Spotify.

“Mellow Beats,” one of my favorite playlists on Spotify.

Streaming-music service Spotify currently has more than 75 million active users and 20 million paid subscribers, and I’m one of those subscribers. The service is doing a lot of stuff right. I love it. It allows me to keep my own playlists with me wherever I go, and introduces me to new moods of music. With my cell plan that allows unlimited music streaming, it’s a perfect match. I pay $9.99 a month for my subscription, along with another $4.99 a month for a family member, for a total of $14.99 a month, or $179.88 a year, and I’m a happy subscriber. Sure, I could pay nothing and use just the free version, but Spotify has put some effective values in place to motivate people like me to subscribe. By being a subscriber, I get:

  • Unlimited access to music that fits my mood (keeping my playlists accessible and discovering new music)
  • The ability to play any individual song whenever I want (you can just shuffle an album on the free version — a nice value fence that Spotify introduced to drive subscription)
  • Access to music via my mobile phone, on the go
  • No ads

So, what could the non-profit world learn from a tech company like Spotify?

Spotify sells one-to-many, not one-to-one

Since Spotify has a huge library of music, the cost of allowing each person to access that library is practically zero. At first glance, this is often hard to do for the arts — you have only a limited number of seats to sell or space to fill. But arts orgs could come up with other valuable content or experiences that are one-to-many, and that would help justify a subscription. For example, a symphony could put its library of past recordings online, streamable to subscribers as part of the subscription package. A theatre company could curate a collection of YouTube videos that explain how to understand Shakespeare. A dance company could create its own Spotify playlist, for that matter, and share it with subscribers. There is nothing wrong with either curating content or using existing content from elsewhere to provide one-to-many value.

Spotify offers a free trial, and discounts to family members of paid subscribers

Spotify gives a 30-day trial to the service, and family members of paid subscribers can sign up for a discounted rate. Spotify already knows that people who like the service will tell the people closest to them — this option provides a mechanism to make the transaction easier. If an arts group has a good customer database, it’s easy to offer trial performances or experiences, or to establish family relationships for preferential pricing. Don’t we want family and friends to come together? Perhaps we could make a greater focus on rewarding relationship activity such as this.

Spotify subscriptions are paid monthly (not yearly)

I pay $14.99 a month for my Spotify subscription, which seems psychologically more palatable than forking over $179.88 for a yearly subscription. Most people probably forget that their card is charged each month. If arts groups allowed a subscription to be a small and ongoing monthly charge, they might see more signups due to a lower perceived barrier to entry. People can stop paying Spotify any time they like, and if someone wants to stop paying monthly for their arts subscription, why not? Especially if the value isn’t based on a huge discount, and is instead based on other valuable benefits.

Spotify lets subscribers see their usage data

Spotify tracks the songs you listen to the most, and in what season. They are experimenting with ways of letting you know this info, such as the “year in music” feature they launched in 2014. What if arts patrons could see their own attendance history? If this history was put together in an inviting package, what effect would this have? People who say “I go to the opera all the time” may see that they really haven’t been in 3 years, and decide to come back. Others would be reminded of past arts experiences, which, if positive, might drive repeat engagement.

Spotify gives subscribers access to an incredible amount of musical options

Spotify has at least 30 million songs. An arts organization probably has a lot of different experiences it offers, even if it is not 30 million. But could a choral group communicate more than just its own upcoming performances to patrons? What about featuring performances by other groups in the area? If your group doesn’t have a show on and there is no competition, what do you have to lose? Become the trusted expert on your genre for your local community, and alert your patrons to great things happening in that genre, even if they are not being created by you. I’ve implemented these types of partnerships in several communities, and partner organizations do return the favor. Plus, your patrons will respect and appreciate you for it.

Spotify makes accessing music easy

Install the Spotify app, search for music, and play it. The interface looks great. No software snags to catch you. Everything is easy and forgiving. A lot of time has been spent optimizing the customer experience of using Spotify. What’s it like to buy a ticket at your organization? By phone? By web? Can people do it on their phone? Is there a bunch of “mouse type” and warning messages they have to overcome? When they get to the venue, is it easy to find parking? To check in? To do all the things that a patron wants to do in your venue? Spending time optimizing the customer experience is one of the very best uses of your time, often with instant results.

Spotify continues to experiment with mining user data to create cool features. Some new ones include playlists with songs that change tempo as you run, the ability to see which artists you discovered before they hit it big (I totally called Ben Folds back in the day) and a new feature called “Rewind” that “explores the tunes you would have had on repeat throughout the 00s, 90s, 80s, 70s and 60s based on your musical taste.” How could you mine data to provide insights like these to your patrons? Notice the ways you use the services you pay for — the companies such as Spotify in the for-profit world are a great place to find inspiration for new experiments to try with your patrons.

About Ron Evans

I am an arts marketing and consumer psychology researcher, and principal consultant at Group of Minds. I advise leaders on behavioral psychology, marketing & technology to nudge audience behavior. Get in touch via email, on Twitter, or Google+: +Ron Evans