Spotify had no choice but to offer an excellent free service in India

Image: REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
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It might be late to the party, but the Swedish music streaming app Spotify is trying really hard to make up for the lost time in India.

The Stockholm-based company launched in the country yesterday (Feb. 27) with freebies and affordable rates to woo price-sensitive Indians, besides announcing plans to go more vernacular. Among other things, Spotify’s ad-free monthly subscription is available in India for Rs119 ($1.67), significantly lower than the $9.99 in the US. In fact, premium plans start at just Rs13 for a daylong subscription.

“India is a price sensitive market and we love freebies. Spotify is trying to exploit this sentiment and I believe this is a smart move,” said Yugal Joshi, vice-president at the consulting firm Everest Group.

Even the non-paying users in India have it better than what’s available for free elsewhere.

For instance, they can search for and play any song from its 40-million-strong library as many times as they wish on their smartphone. This is in contrast to how the mobile version of the app works in other countries. In the US, free users cannot choose which song they hear as the app randomly plays songs for them.

“This (Indian version) is probably one of the best free services that we have around the world,” Amarjit Batra, managing director of Spotify India, said during a call with journalists on Feb. 27.

Spotify’s decision to offer an attractive free service has a lot to do with it being a laggard in the country, analysts said. “They have no choice. They’ve come so late into the market. The consumer has already formed their liking,” said Sanchit Vir Gogia, chief analyst and CEO of consulting firm Greyhound Research. “Nearly every other user of such a service has already found a sweet spot, built playlists, and subscribed to something.”

India’s music streaming market has exploded over the last few years with several global and homegrown players fighting neck and neck. The market leaders include US-based Apple Music and Amazon Music, and domestic ones such as Gaana, JioSaavn, and Hungama.

But there’s still scope for growth as the country is witnessing a smartphone boom accelerated by a drastic drop in data prices. From 27 million in 2015, India’s online music listeners are slated to surpass 273 million by March 2020, consulting firm Deloitte estimates.

Native language content could be pivotal in wooing these new users, and Spotify has a plan for that as well. Its famous music recommendation engines have been optimised for Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, and Telugu in India, while Spotify staffers will also curate playlists in these languages, the company said.