top of page

Review: Spotify Teardown - Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music

This is an excellent book that really digs deep into not only Spotify but much of the tech world it inhabits - data, platforms, algorithms, and so forth and as such is very enlightening.

The authors are all Swedish academics so they bring a rigour to their investigations of Spotify, how it began, grew and evolved, that you don’t find every day. The downside of that is that the book and its language is at times quite heavily academic. It can be hard to wade through some of it but stick with it and it’s worth it.

The book applies various research approaches to unpicking Spotify such as from anthropology which is valuable and insightful but for me, perhaps because I’m not an academic, the book is at its most effective when it reminds us of Spotify’s journey.

To get to the Spotify of today the company has been through various different versions, iterations, and strategies, such as moving from its early focus on the search box to today’s heavy emphasis on programmed playlists. Or for a while Spotify wanted to be a platform for other developers to innovate and try out their own ideas, only for the firm to shut that down and return to keeping innovation firmly inhouse.

But what is most interesting is the irony that for one of the poster children of digital subscriptions, the original focus of Spotify was actually nothing to do with subscriptions. Rather advertising was right at the heart of Spotify when it began (so not the only tech company to take this approach) and subscriptions only came later, and apparently only instigated at the insistence of the major labels. Subscription, the central story of Spotify today, was actually something that only came along later.

This book is a reminder that nothing is ever fixed or static in either tech or culture. Everything is constantly shifting and evolving. Human nature is to ascribe stories to the world around us and fit the past, or at least our current impressions of the past, into a narrative that we feel explains our world today.

The reality is our memories of the past are highly unreliable, and our predictions of the future equally poor. Sure it helps to have a plan when you start, but success on the scale Spotify today shows that adaptability, flexibility and constant evolution are what really count.

bottom of page