#91: After the gold rush

A cautionary tale on throwing ourselves too eagerly into subscriptions (please keep your Substack jokes to yourself).

I cancelled my Spotify subscription over the weekend. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. The terrible artist royalty model has been eating away at me for some time, and while this Joe Rogan fellow is barely in my mental orbit, the noise around him last week was too loud to ignore. It finally gave me the push I needed.

The actual cancellation was easy enough — just a few clicks in a web browser. Getting my library from Spotify to Apple Music, using an iOS app called SongShift, took most of Saturday (it asks you to manually verify song matches it isn’t 100% sure of). Why Apple Music? We’re an iPhone and iPad house, with an Apple TV in the lounge. Through the combo subscription Apple One, it actually works out cheaper than Spotify providing you’re already paying for Apple Arcade (which you should, because of Grindstone), Apple TV+ (likewise: Ted Lasso) and more iCloud storage (photos of dog; Alan Partridge GIFs). The difference between paying for those separately, and a Apple One sub for the whole family, costs less than a monthly Spotify subscription.

By Saturday evening I’d moved my entire Spotify life over to Apple Music. My playlists are now sorted alphabetically rather than chronologically, which is sad, and there are a number of songs missing, but I can live with it. I am more struck, however, by the ripple effect of leaving Spotify: by the little ways in which my life has suddenly become slightly less convenient, that I did not consider until they became apparent.

For a start, there’s no Apple Music app on Xbox, so Forza Horizon 5 just got a whole lot worse. My next poker night with the pals is going to be a bit awkward if we’re all on different music services and can’t just throw a collaborative playlist together for the evening. And I learned last night that I can’t cast music from my phone to an Amazon Echo. This is a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, sure, but one significant enough to mean I am now contemplating replacing our two Echos with Homepod Minis — and a £200 outlay on hardware is not something I considered when pondering if it was time I told Spotify to sling its hook. (An aside: I almost plumped for the most expensive tier of Apple One because I quite fancied the Fitness+ stuff, but it emerges that you cannot use the Fitness app on Apple TV unless you also own an Apple Watch. Ecosystems!)

In a way I’m getting off light. A friend bought a fitness watch a while back and specifically chose one that had native Spotify support. I know of others who did the same when buying cars. Spotify is everywhere, and it is only in binning it off that I have become fully aware of its ubiquity, and how I have let that impact on other decisions I have made during the years I’ve been a member.

You can see where I’m going with this, I’m sure. We think of subscription services as just that: small monthly fee, large catalogue of things. But such is the extent to which these services weave themselves into the daily fabric of our connected lives that we become invisibly tethered to, and reliant upon, them in ways we either do not consider at all, or at least consider to not be a problem. Ecosystems are, after all, generally nice places to be. While most often deployed as a negative term, there is nothing inherently bad about a ‘walled garden’. Gardens are nice! The problems only begin when you want to go over the wall.

Spotify was incredible at first, wasn’t it. All that music! For such a low price! All your friends are on it, you’re flinging recommendations around and putting playlists together. You don’t give a second thought to how artists are doing out of it, or what Spotify intends to do with the money you’re giving them. You see a service that represents good value to you and fits nicely into your life, so you pay for it.

The way I think about Game Pass today is the way I thought about Spotify a decade ago. I am not, when perusing the bulging library of games that my subscription fee unlocks, thinking about how the service’s revenue model treats developers. I am not thinking about what effect it is having, or will have, on how I acquire, play, or fall in and out of love with games, nor on what Microsoft intends to do with the money I am giving it, or the service it is providing in exchange. It is too early to tell whether the acquisitions Microsoft is making to bolster the Game Pass line-up are a good thing — for the companies involved, for the industry more broadly, or for me and my fellow players. And I am certainly not thinking about five, ten or 15 years down the line when I may want to move on, and how awkward or painful it might be for me to do so.

I do not mean to doom-monger. (For once.) Game Pass is brilliant, irresistibly so, and I hope it remains that way forever. But after my experience bidding Spotify farewell this weekend, I hope I have learned to tread a little more carefully in future — to ensure I do not give too much of myself to a platform over which I have negligible control. At the very least, I will try to focus less on the wonders of the garden, and pay a little more heed to the walls.


  • Former Greek finance minister and Valve economist Yanis Varoufakis has issued one of the most withering dismissals of play-to-earn I have yet seen — no mean feat in an increasingly crowded field. “The idea that people must now play like robots to earn a living so as to be human in their spare time is, indeed, the apotheosis of misanthropy,” he said. Fuck about.
  • A YouTube channel containing videogame music was struck by 1,300 copyright claims in a single day, courtesy of the ever-protective Nintendo. Cripes.
  • Roblox Corporation paid out $500m — a rise of over 50% year on year — to developers and creators in 2021, a fact you’d think they’d want to keep a little quiet given that the platform made $509m (up over 100%!) in revenue in just three months last year.
  • Worms NFTs. No thank you.
  • Mere weeks after showing everyone his backside with an ill-advised NFT pivot, voice actor Troy Baker has changed his mind and backed out of the venture. “I’ve heard you and apologise for accusing anyone of ‘hating’ just by simply disagreeing with me,” he sobbed.
  • Thirty-five US states, and the Department Of Justice, have called foul in the Epic v Apple case, which is now rumbling through the appeals system. The DOJ raised concerns about the implications of the judge’s ruling, which found overwhelmingly in Apple’s favour, amid fears it could negatively impact future antitrust cases.

There you go! I’ve got a lot on this week, so will likely need either Wednesday or Friday off to get it all over the line. We’ll let events dictate which one falls, I think. See you soon!