Spotify CEO Daniel Ek — Worth $4.7 Billion — Dragged on Social Media After Saying ‘Content’ Costs ‘Close to Zero’ to Create

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek dragged over comments about content creation costs
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Spotify CEO Daniel Ek dragged over comments about content creation costs
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Photo Credit: Spotify

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek is worth $4.7 billion by 2024 estimates. His recent comments on X/Twitter have sparked backlash from artists after saying content creation costs are “near zero.” With Spotify notoriously paying fewer royalties to songwriters and publishers amid its bundling scheme—Ek is now walking back those comments.

On May 29, Daniel Ek took to X/Twitter to muse about how to get more content to hoover up and offer to users for a monthly subscription price—while paying less than a penny per play. “With the cost of creating content being close to zero, people can share an incredible amount of content,” Ek mused. “This has sparked my curiosity about the concept of long shelf life versus short shelf life.”

“While much of what we see and hear quickly becomes obsolete, there are timeless ideas or even pieces of music that can remain relevant for decades or even centuries. We’re witnessing a resurgence of Stoicism, with many of Marcus Aurelius’s insights still resonating thousands of years later. This makes me wonder: what are the most unintuitive yet enduring ideas that aren’t frequently discussed today but might have a long shelf life? Also, what are we creating now that will still be valued and discussed hundreds or thousands of years from today?”

Musicians, songwriters, producers, artists, and other creatives quickly lambasted the CEO for his comments, especially the “close to zero” for content creation cost comment.

“I created my Grammy-nominated album on a cross-country train, completely produced and mixed it myself,” says artist Cheryl B. Engelhardt in reply to Ek’s statement. “I was able to do that because of the thousands of $$ spent on quality sounds, my education, my gear, etc. Please get a clue and maybe talk to REAL musicians.”

“Don’t say stuff if you have no actual proper anything to compare it to,” adds indie artist Shimmer Johnson. “Great, you’re a billionaire off of everyone else’s hard work and time. Congrats!”

What is the cost of creating content? If you factor in education, time spent learning mixing and audio editing—then the cost certainly isn’t “close to zero.” In fact, an artist who earns 1,000,000 million streams on Spotify will earn about $4,000 for those streams. Fewer than 20% of artists on Spotify have more than 1,000 monthly unique listeners—making Spotify a game of numbers that benefits artists like Taylor Swift more than a smaller, niche artists like ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic.

Daniel Ek returned to X/Twitter to clarify his comments after riling up the hornet’s nest of artists who are already pissed. “I understand how it came across as very reductive and that wasn’t my intent,” Ek states. “Just to clarify—my original point was not to devalue the time, effort, or resources involved in creating meaningful works, whether it’s music, literature, or other creative forms of expression.”

Daniel Ek’s comments come after Spotify posted a record profit in Q1 2024 following cost-cutting measures like layoffs impacting more than 1,500 people. One of those people was the guy who managed Spotify’s micro-genre aggregator, Every Noise at Once. Spotify laid off the engineer responsible for the website in December 2023—resulting in a loss for people who loved discovering new music on the service. The hyper-specific genres highlighted by the website even powered Spotify’s own internal projects. Whoops.

These brain-dead comments on X/Twitter come just a few months after Ek admitted he was surprised by how much laying off 1,500 workers would impact the businesses daily operations. “Although there’s no question that it was the right strategic decision, it did disrupt our day-to-day operations more than we anticipated,” Ek told investors. Whoops again.

Ek’s comments come off as a man seeking evergreen content to monetize for years to come, rather than flash in the pan content like pop culture podcasts and audiobooks. It also helps that Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations come with no royalties—since the Roman Emperor is long dead. The question Ek is proposing is essentially, “which content should we capitalize on next now that our podcast gambit has failed and audiobook bundling is receiving pushback from the music industry?”