Apple Music Is Crushing Spotify In User Engagement — And the Latest Drake Numbers Prove It

Spotify pulled out every single stop to promote Drake’s latest, Scorpion.  So why didn’t they come close to Apple Music’s numbers?

Riddle me this:

Why is Spotify, a platform with approximately 160 million users and 70 million paying subscribers, unable to beat Apple Music, a site with 45 million paying-only subscribers, with perhaps 5 million more trial users thrown in?

That’s right: despite having less than one-third the total users of Spotify, Apple Music absolutely eclipsed Spotify in streaming totals for Drake’s Scorpion.  Spotify crossed an estimated 130 million in its first day.  But Apple Music quietly scored 170 million, roughly 31 percent more.

So how did Apple Music so handily crush Spotify with just a fraction of its user base?  The answer boils down to a stark difference in user engagement, with Spotify falling way behind Apple Music on this critical metric.

The gaping difference resurfaces longtime questions about the quality of Spotify’s user base.  And, how transparent Spotify is about its numbers.

For example, Spotify claims to have more than 70 million paying subscribers, but how many are actually paying full fare?  Analysts have long wondered how many cut-rate, $5 student plans are frothing the numbers, not to mention $1 trials and other cut-rate plans.  All of which boosts the numbers for Wall Street, but disguises serious problems in the broader engagement of those users.

But that quality issue becomes apparent in head-to-head battles like this one.

Even more troubling questions surround Spotify’s ‘active’ user base of 160 million.  How many of those people are actually still using the app, and actually count as ‘active’?  Tough questions that Spotify has routinely obfuscated, and Wall Street has largely ignored.

Apple Music, spearheaded by the value-demanding Jimmy Iovine, doesn’t cut as many discounts and demands payment after three months.  The result is that a large percentage of Apple Music subscribers are either paying full fare, or at most enjoying a family plan discount.

Those demands may be eliminating the less serious msuic listeners, who simply go elsewhere.

Apple’s crowd seems more music-focused and better engaged, which also means they’re more likely to engage in a new release like Scorpion.  Apple Music wasn’t plastering Drake images on British-themed playlists or cramming this release down their subscribers’ throats.  They didn’t have to.

The people who were interested streamed Scorpion.  The rest resumed their regularly scheduled program.

The situation over at Spotify was completely different.

After getting Drake-spammed all weekend, some of Spotify’s paying subscribers are demanding refunds, or outright unsubscribing.  One of them is even calling the Federal Trade Commission to report advertising fraud.

Thank You Spotify for Stuffing Drake Down My Throat

That’s right: people paying $9.99 a month are angry because they view Drake as a forced advertisement.  Which is what Drake seems like if you’re exclusively into classical or punk.  You really, really don’t give a f—k about Drake, and you’re specifically paying not have stuff you don’t like crammed down your throat.

Of course, Spotify is brushing this stuff off, claiming that the number of complaints is marginal.  But this is a case study that Wall Street should be analyzing, and using to double-check their frothy assumptions.  Because Spotify should have easily tripled Apple Music’s totals, yet somehow didn’t.

Maybe the math isn’t adding up for a reason.





11 Responses

  1. Sad Paul is sad

    Spotify has more listening hours per user than Apple Music. But since discover weekly and daily mixes offer superior personalization, folks listen to more diverse stuff.
    This article is just sad and so are you.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      I’m one of those Spotify subscribers, with personalized recommendations and mixes like other Spotify subscribers. Starting Thursday night, Drake was on a megaphone on the platform, piercing through that wall. Or better put: smashing the wall entirely.

      Which is the problem that Spotify’s paying subscribers are expressing.

  2. Remi Swierczek

    AppleMusic & Spotify are just TWO #streaming NUTS on D. Ek DOPE killing together with YouTube $300B of music business obvious to Borat at UMG request!
    Last month Sptify confirmed 10 BILLION new tune discoveries gone cashless.
    We can just play the best ad & sub free and charge for additions to playlists!

  3. Reality

    Apple could simply have more young hiphop fans. Which means to make any point in this article, at least 3 different genre major releases need to be compared.

  4. so

    Fact is that Apple is a much more pop-oriented service. Spotify is generally far more adventurous and more supportive of indies creating a wider range of music.

    • Bruce from Oz

      While Spotify definitely has the upper hand in and more experience in this Apple’s personalized playlists and it’s indie playlists are very well done. Not to be ignored

  5. An Elephant Is Located Somewhere In This Room

    Drake is pop not hip hop.

    Either way hip hop/rap is the biggest genre in the world right now. It matters the most.

  6. Ritch Esra

    Great piece Paul. This highlights the issue of really being able to identify your audience in this era of Big Data. Obviously, when you have the #1 artist in the world putting out their latest release and this is the result – it begs more questions than it answers. Like all complex issues facing today’s ever evolving music business there IS NOT JUST ONE SIMPLE ANSWER. This will be an issue to continue to look at especially when highly anticipated superstar albums are released in the future.

  7. Blobbo

    Drake sucks. Mariah Carey has sucked a long, long time. That’s all I need to know.

  8. Chris

    Occasionally my I forget how agenda-driven DMN can be. The headline here is once again sensationalized. The numbers do not ‘prove’ anything that may be asserted in this article.

    There is an implication made in this article that because discounted subscriptions are cheaper, the users are thus less engaged. This is a fundamental argument of this piece. Please point me to the study that shows this quantitatively, because it’s definitely not referenced in this editorial (that’s what this is- an editorial, not reporting).

    Could you provide the multiple references that support your claim that Spotify “routinely obfuscated” user engagement numbers? I only find those claims in DMN articles.

    I suspect the real reason for the stream count differences are much less controversial. May I offer some counterpoints:
    1.) The genre consumption differences between Apple and Spotify are significant and generally accepted, with Spotify reaching much more broadly across genres.

    2.) Drake likely over-indexes with North American listeners, where Apple and Spotify paid numbers are very similar. It is internationally where Spotify has a dominant position. But It stands to reason that a far greater % of Canadians and Americans are listening to drake than Brazilians and Swedes.

    These two points alone (territory preferences and genre focus of the services) can very easily justify a 30% difference in streams between the two services.

    It may in fact true be that engagement on Apple Music is higher than Spotify. Or the opposite. The truth is, the arguments posted in this article do very little to justify any position in that discussion, and the arguments in this article certainly do not support the headline statement “Apple Music Is Crushing Spotify In User Engagement — And the Latest Drake Numbers Prove It”

    As a Spotify user, I found the browse section annoying for a couple days myself. then I moved on to my regularly scheduled listening, which did not include Drake at all. As an Apple user, I did the same. This article is trying to make controversy out of nothing, which is a pretty common thread on this site.

    • Andrew

      Chris, well said. It’s taking a loosely given set of information over 1 artist as being the barometer of all music and consumption. Nothing is proved here.