Is Spotify’s New Ad Unit Actually Payola?
Two months ago Spotify quietly launched a new ad initiative called Marquee. This product was offered to labels and artist promoters, who could buy pop-up ads encouraging listeners to play a song from their artists. The cost for the Marquee pop-ups is 55 cents per click. In other words, labels can now buy streaming plays on Spotify for 55 cents each.
On the surface Marquee could be seen as any other CPC-based ad product. Thousands of performance advertisers buy campaigns like this every day, so why can’t labels do the same? The problem has to do with how the plays generated by Marquee ads get reported in the streaming charts. If a promoter invests a significant amount in Marquee they can get hundreds of thousands of additional plays and effectively buy their way up the streaming charts. In the music industry this is called Payola, and several in the industry are starting to use that word to describe Marquee.
Charleton Lamb, a Senior Product Marketing Manager for Spotify who helped develop Marquee, denies that streams are now for sale on their platform. “We’re hopeful that our recommendations are useful, that we’re able to match artists with people who are going to be interested,” he says. “But you’re not paying for streams. Every listener has the choice to either engage or not.”
Regardless of whether Marquee is Payola or not, the program does perpetuate a digital version of one of the all-time sins of the music industry. Any time money can be used to influence popularity, instead of just the quality of the music itself, the art form suffers.