Earlier yesterday, Daniel Ek—founder and CEO of Spotify—sent out a brief tweet: “40 is the new 30. Million.” He was, of course, referring to the streaming service’s paid subscribers, up 10 million after reaching the 30 million milestone this March. A Spotify spokesperson confirmed the figures to Complex.
10 million subscribers (or 33% growth) in just under six months is an enormous feat for a streaming service. The rate of growth points to a growing industry and audience for streaming music but, more importantly, it suggests that Spotify is outpacing its primary rival: Apple Music.
Just last week, Apple announced that it had amassed 17 million subscribers on its own streaming service. While that trails Spotify’s overall numbers, it’s not surprising—Apple Music just launched last June, while Spotify has been around since 2008. Apple knew when it launched the streaming service that its Swedish competition had quite the head start. However, what is notable from Ek’s numbers today is that Spotify appears to be growing faster than its well-heeled counterpart.
Apple’s 17 million subscriber announcement comes just months after its last disclosure: 15 million, back in June, up from 11 million in February. Which means that the service gained 6 million subscribers in 7 months. It’s serious growth—Apple Music is the benchmark for how quickly streaming can grow from scratch—but it’s growing more slowly than Spotify (10 million subscribers in 6 months) for the first time since its launch.
This flies in the face of conventional logic; many assumed that Apple Music, the streaming service that comes pre-installed (although not paid for, outside a free trial) on millions and millions of iPhones, would make up its starting line deficit easily.
Of course, subscription numbers aren’t everything. Spotify still faces a difficult route to an IPO, and negotiations over royalty rates with major labels still pose a significant hurdle to reaching profitability. Apple, on the other hand, has a near-unlimited amount of money in its war chest, and in some ways it’s better to think of Apple Music as an incentive to keep its customers using iPhones, and every other Apple product under the sun, than a standalone business.
Still, the surge in subscriptions for Spotify could pose a rebuttal to the efficacy of exclusives, a hot-button issue in the streaming economy. Just a few weeks ago, Apple Music received its highest profile streaming exclusive yet: Frank Ocean’s Blonde (and Endless), one of 70 releases this year that were available on Apple Music and Apple Music alone this year. While exclusives have certainly raised the profile of Apple Music (and Tidal, which is currently going through its own growing pains), Spotify’s rapid recruitment of new, paying listeners suggests that content available only in one place may not be the audience builder some believed.
Spotify, thus far, has refrained from entering the exclusives fray with Apple Music and Tidal, opting instead to wait out the exclusivity period for albums from Ocean, Drake, and Kanye West.