Spotify Will Die an Expensive and Embarrassing Death

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I've spent considerable time trying to make sense of Spotify's apparent $3 billion valuation. In fact, I have been trying to figure Spotify out for nearly a year now.

Why is it the darling of private equity and Wall Street?

Whenever I conclude Spotify is a poser, I return to the drawing board. I feel dirty, like I'm thinking impure thoughts about a hot mom at my kid's school or breaking the 11th commandment -- Thou Shall Not Say Anything Even Remotely Negative About Spotify.

Soon, Goldman Sachs ( GS) will tell us that Jesus Christ listens to Spotify.

Forgive me for being hyperbolic or sacrilegious, but, my fragile child, things have gotten ahead of themselves, even out of control.

Anecdote alert: I paid for a monthly subscription to Spotify. I still can't figure out exactly what I'm paying for. Spotify feels like a glorified iTunes. A really busy, not-very-useful, not-even-close-to-intuitive iTunes.

Spotify makes me want to beg Apple ( AAPL) for forgiveness. Like so many others, I have been hard on iTunes. But, man, it hits the spot. It's everything it needs to be. The modest version 11 upgrade, due any minute now, ought to be just right.

When I'm not forcing myself to sample Spotify, I use one of three sources for music: iTunes, Pandora ( P) or Google's ( GOOG) YouTube.

These are complementary services:
  • iTunes: When you know exactly what you want to listen to. After all, your library contains songs you purchased and/or downloaded. iTunes also plays a key role throughout the purchase process, particularly at fulfillment.
  • Pandora: When you want personalized radio and discovery.
  • YouTube: You know what you want. Or you seek videos, covers, bootlegs, lyrics and/or exploration/discovery.
  • Spotify tries to play each role, specifically with respect to iTunes and Pandora. I'm sure that's possible, but Spotify just doesn't do a very good job of it. Jack of many trades, master of none.

    But that's all subjective stuff. For every person like me who just can't get with Spotify, there are several -- or, given the number of users it claims, like one-tenth of a person -- who love the platform. (We won't even get into Spotify's scale problem; something Pandora does not have to deal with).

    As a business, Spotify has no future. With Spotify in the news so much, I'm not quite certain why Pandora gets branded as the company with the unsustainable business model. That could not be farther from the truth.

    Earlier this year, Patrick Carney of The Black Keys said this about Napster founder Sean Parker, Spotify board member and investor, in response to Parker's absurd claim that Spotify would make more money for the music industry than iTunes:

    Because he's Parker an a**hole. That guy has $2 billion that he made from figuring out ways to steal royalties from artists, and that's the bottom line. You can't really trust anybody like that. The idea of a streaming service, like Netflix for music, I'm totally not against it. It's just we won't put all of our music on it until there are enough subscribers for it to make sense. ( HuffPo, 3/28/2012)

    Carney was pretty much on the mark; however, he got the part about "a streaming service" being "like Netflix ( NFLX)" slightly wrong.

    I need a whole 'nother article to give a Spotify/Pandora/Netflix comparison proper treatment. And I will write that article -- a Part 2 if you will -- later this week on TheStreet.

    But, for now, let's just say:
  • Spotify gets all of the good press. Pandora gets all of the bad press (Some of it, recently, from me).
  • Spotify gets credited with being able to revive the music industry. Apple already did that. Pandora continues to, but, more importantly, it is redefining radio, something neither Spotify or Apple will be able to do.
  • Record labels love Spotify. They hate Pandora. Musicians such as Carney hate Spotify, and for good reason. They should love Pandora. I'll explore the reasons why later this week when I clear up misconceptions about the different music royalty structures Pandora and Spotify live by, using the well-known Netflix model to make sense of it all.
  • Timestamp this. And consider it a preview of Part Two: A Spotify IPO will make the Facebook ( FB) and Pandora IPOs look like smashing success stories.

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    This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
    Rocco Pendola is TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola's daily contributions to TheStreet frequently appear on CNBC and at various top online properties, such as Forbes.