Pluralistic: 12 Sep 2022 Spotify is a ripoff, a Spotify exclusive

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The cover for Chokepoint Capitalism, superimposed with a black banner reading, 'Chapter 5: Why Streaming Doesn't Pay (A Spotify Exclusive!)'

Spotify steals from artists, a Spotify exclusive (permalink)

In our next book, Chokepoint Capitalism, Rebecca Giblin and I set out to shatter the false binary that creative workers can only choose between rooting for Big Tech or Big Content, as if one flavor of monopolist will be better for us than the other. No company epitomizes the hopelessness of this approach more than Spotify.

You've probably heard about the pathetic sums that creators earn from Spotify streaming, often blamed on the tech industry's unwillingness to pay creators what they're worth. Maybe you've also heard the rebuttal – that Spotify pays plenty to entertainment companies, but they intercept this money before it can get into creators' pockets.

That right there is the false binary – either Spotify is cheap, or the Big Three record labels are greedy. But what if – and hear me out here – Spotify is cheap and the Big Three are greedy? What if Spotify and the labels are actually colluding to rip off the "talent"? What if neither kind of monopolist is good for artists, and no matter how much we love them, they'll never truly love us back?

That's the thesis of Chapter 5 of Chokepoint Capitalism, where we get into eye-watering detail on how Spotify and the Big Three work together to transfer value from creative workers to their own shareholders. We explain how the labels took ownership stakes in Spotify and then conspired to suppress creative wages so the company would seem more profitable in the runup to Spotify's IPO, which made billions for the labels. We show how the labels and Spotify colluded to ensure that billions more in royalty payments were "unattributed" and thus not owed to any specific artist. We document how the payment system that Spotify and the labels cooked up does not even reward artists on the basis of how often their work is streamed – and how that deal was rammed down the throats of every indie label through the "most favored nation" status that Spotify guaranteed the Big Three.

It's a hell of a tale, a breakdown of scams like the sleazy accounting tricks used to halve the royalty rates that artists got when Spotify IPOed, and it even has a hero: Taylor Swift, who used her negotiating power to demand Universal Music give a better deal to everyone on its label.
But Taylor Swift alone can't save us (though some of her fans might take a different view!). Her act of solidarity is no structural fix – no more than, say, Joe Rogan's $100,000,000 Spotify payday is.

Rogan's eye-popping deal has precious little to do with everyday creators' livings – he's like the guy that gets to win a giant teddy bear at the carnival midway game in the morning and then totes it around conspicuously for the rest of the day, luring other suckers to try their luck.

We wrote this book to discuss how every creative worker can get a better deal, with half the book given over to detailed, shovel-ready proposals for local, state and national laws, regulations, business opportunities, new technologies and other ways to smash open those chokepoints.

Once the book comes out on Sept 27, you'll be able to read all of Chapter 5, and its companion, Chapter 6 ("Why Spotify Wants You To Rely On Playlists") (spoiler: because it lets them lock in listeners, unlike albums, which are the same everywhere, and it lets them rip off artists by demanding payola).

You'll also be able to listen to the audio edition of those chapters, of course, though you won't be able to get it on Audible, Amazon's monopoly audiobook store. The only part of the book available on Audible is Chapter 13, "Transparency Rights," an "Audible Exclusive" that explains in similar detail how Audible steals from creators and locks in listeners:

However, if you're a Spotify user, you can listen to the audio edition of Chapter 5 today, because it is a Spotify Exclusive – and, as with our Audible exclusive, it's the only part of the audiobook you can get on Spotify (the part of the book that explains what a titanic ripoff Spotify is for artists):

(Go ahead, give it a listen! – Stefan Rudnicki does an incredible job with the narration).

As our Spotify chapter shows, avoiding the chokepoints in chokepoint capitalism is really, really hard – and every one of those chokepoints exists to pick artists' pockets. That's why we're Kickstarting the audio edition, in a crowdfunder that's now broken the $100,000 mark. You've still got a few days left to back it and join our supporters, who've pre-ordered hundreds of print books, and thousands of ebooks and audibooks, as well as donating hundreds of copies to libraries:

You can also meet us in person; we're going on the road with the book, starting next Friday, with an event in Toronto at Type Books in the Junction. From there, we move on to New York, LA, San Francisco, and beyond:

Hey look at this (permalink)

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Colophon (permalink)

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  • Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press, September 2022

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