Spotify, a legal music streaming service, launched in NZ this week. I’ve been using it in the UK for several years and I’m a massive fan.

Music is a huge part of my life – particularly discovering/sampling new bands and artists and Spotify provides exactly this – the ability to sample music easily, legalling, and without downloading or making a transaction for every track or album.

Users have a choice between a free subscription where they will be subjected to frequent audio advertisements – which quite frankly are awful and hugely disruptive to the listening experience. If only they were like bFM ads, most of which are thoroughly amusing, have (half way decent) music in the background and are mixed at a level that makes one listen through an ad break rather than leave the room or turn the tuner off. But I digress …

Spotify’s ads are probably intentionally designed to make the user upgrade to a premium subscription  – a fairly step $20 per month – in return for an unlimited amount of uninterrupted musical exploration. Hundreds of thousands of users were converted to Spotify via the free, ad-free UK beta which lasted long enough for the service to become such a big part of our personal and social music consumption that when the ads arrived, we couldn’t live with them, OR live without Spotify.

This uninterrupted musical exploration – with offline DRM controlled options – is now my most used source of music consumption. The catalogue is not without holes but remarkably extensive. Personally, I think it’s the first workable solution to the music piracy problem that anyone’s ever bothered with.

Look up pretty much whatever you want (although their search leaves alot to be desired) whenever you want and access your account and playlists on any device with an internet connection (essential for saving dire social affairs). Play is instant, there’s only one copy of each track, licensed to Spotify by the label or artist, and they get paid for listens.

How much, is where the problem begins. Countless arguments with friends who make their living from music have ensued – I said it’s a revolution and better than people downloading it for free, they say it’s an insulting, slippery slope.  The revelation that Lady Gaga netted just US$167 for 1 million plays  stopped us utopians in their unlimited listening of tracks.

I use Spotify every day. Surely if I’ve listened to that QOTSA track 58 times, I should buy it. (Well actually, I have. As with when I got my first iPod, I paid (from other sources, including the Local Independent Record Store) for more music in the first few months I started using Spotify than I had for years. )

But it’s got me thinking about the model.

When we borrow a book from the library, rent a DVD, (even on iTunes), we don’t get to consume it forever. Surely if you’ve listened to something 10 – or even 5 times – you clearly like it, and if you want to listen to it again, you should buy it. Perhaps at a discounted price that reflects the investment of your premium account. And then you get to keep it –  on file, and in your Spotify account. It will be so easy it will be dangerous. I think that’s fair – what about you?