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The Wiki Man

The Wiki Man

Rory Sutherland's fortnightly column on technology and the web

3 June 2009

12:00 AM

3 June 2009

12:00 AM

It’s called Spotify. I don’t know why. And I have no idea how it can make money for the people who have invested in it. But this is the internet we are talking about, where all of us can enjoy good things for years while it falls to other people to work out how to make money from them.

So, if you live in Britain (or Sweden, Norway, Finland, France or Spain), don’t waste any time reading the rest of this article — go along to www.spotify.com and download the free version now. Those who first want to know what it does may want to sit down now, since you’re in for a surprise.

What the Spotify software allows you to do, and quite legally, is to use your PC to listen to almost any music you like — on demand, instantly and free. In theory the whole thing is supported by advertisements, but these seem so unobtrusive as to be almost subliminal.


I’ve had this software on my laptop for months. So you’re probably wondering why I haven’t told you about it before. This is because, when Spotify first came out, I liked everything about it except for its selection of music.

Those of you who know me only as a writer on gadgetry may have assumed my love of modernity extends to my cultural tastes. Quite the opposite. If you find me downloading a film, it’s probably in black and white. My favourite online radio station plays baroque music. And the main British bands you’ll find on my iPod are Harry Roy’s, Ray Noble’s and Lew Stone’s. So, when I first found Spotify’s early catalogue full of modern dross sung by Mancunians in anoraks, I rather lost interest.

A few weeks ago, however, I revisited it and found the catalogue had grown spectacularly. This morning I found several hundred pieces by Buxtehude; about 400 Bach harpsichord works; even a few hundred songs by Al Bowlly. In other words it is now so extensively stocked you can spend long and happy hours exploring its wider reaches. Nor is its scope confined to music — I have spent the past 30 minutes listening to Churchill’s speeches. The few glaring musical omissions are the same hold-outs who long resisted appearing on the iTunes store: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Beatles.

Technologically, aside from its wonderfully clean interface, Spotify is distinguished by its remarkable achievement in somehow resolving the problem of ‘buffering’ — the process which causes those seconds of finger-drumming irritation between your clicking on online media and its starting to play. Also commendable is its intelligent approach to mobility. I am writing this in a Bonn hotel room where I expected Spotify not to work, since I am accessing the internet outside my home country. In fact it continues to work overseas until you have been abroad continuously for a fortnight. If BBC iPlayer could adopt this same travel-friendly approach I might agree to increase my licence fee.

One last thing to like. Spotify has not yet adopted iTunes’s irritating habit of censoring ‘offensive’ words with prissy little PC asterisks. This practice reached an absurd height last week when it started referring to Doo Wop as Doo W*p. A song called Spic & Span now appears as S**c & Span. Just typical of the bl*ody s*ptics, isn’t it?


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