France's number one music streaming site, Deezer (www.deezer.com), seemed to offer the perfect compromise between paying for music and pirating it, since it involved neither - it was both free and legal. But earlier this month, Deezer unveiled an updated version of the site with some undesirable changes.
One of the strengths of Deezer was that users didn’t have to create an account to listen to music - only to create playlists. But with the new version, "Deezernauts" had to create an account in order to listen to even just one song.
This change was so unpopular with users – a Facebook group was created just to protest against it - that Deezer backtracked: users now have to sign up after listening to three tracks via the search function, and again have unlimited access to the online radios and Top charts.
But here’s the worst part: some tracks on members’ playlists have simply become inaccessible, due to “territorial restrictions” imposed by the record companies. Hence, a song from a UK album version can in some cases no longer be listened to in France. The member then has to search for the track again on a French or international version of the album – assuming there is one.
And more changes are likely to come - Deezer is currently testing the addition of audio adverts to its tracks. This would be no doubt a source of annoyance for users, but a much-needed source of income for Deezer, since it can charge more for these adverts.
Deezer justifies the changes
The day after the update, Jonathan Benassaya, one of the co-founders of Deezer, justified these changes in an interview (in French) with French IT news site PC INpact.
Seemingly unapologetic, he said: “We all want to say that with the internet there are no longer any borders, except that the music industry still reasons in terms of territorialities. We need to reassure this industry because without them we can’t live. Indeed, the Deezernauts are not happy, which is natural, but on the other hand Deezer needs to be able to grow and remain the star pupil, and as long as we’re like that we’ll be able to move forward with the industry. This industry is not well and, in such a situation, we have to accompany them.”
A few weeks later, after receiving hundreds of negative comments on its forum and dozens more on its blog, accusing it notably of being “the puppet of the major record companies”, Deezer’s two co-founders replied to users via the (French) blog. They pointed out that the tracks which are no longer accessible on playlists can still be listened to via the smartPlaylist. But there’s a catch: the smartPlaylist only plays playlists in a random order – rather frustrating for users wanting to hear their favourite song there and then.
Competition only a click away – and there’s plenty of it
Around the time of the update, Deezer boasted of having 5.5 million unique visitors a month worldwide. Will the changes make the “Deezernauts” go elsewhere? Anicet Mbida, a journalist at French IT news website 01 Informatique, told FRANCE 24: “On the internet, the competitor is one click away. So it’s very, very easy to go from Deezer to someone else. There are competitors today which are a bit more user-friendly. And don’t forget that all these websites have another competitor called piracy.”
There is certainly no lack of competition in France: French sites Jiwa and musicMe are popular, as is Luxembourg-based Jamendo. Last.fm and imeem (respectively British and American) are also ones to watch. And in March, mobile phone operator Orange will launch the beta version of its French online music service, WorMee.
Last but by no means least, there is Spotify, a new but already popular Sweden-based site which works via peer-to-peer, which is faster than streaming. Still in its beta version, it plans to offer users the choice between free access to music with adverts, or paying small amounts for music without adverts. Despite its relative youth, credible rumours are already circulating about Spotify soon appearing on the iPhone. It certainly seems one to watch. As Anicet Mbida points out, “People are ready to pay for music.”