Farhad’s Week in Tech: Spotify’s Tough Road, and Our Pile of Reader Feedback

Spotify’s filings suggest strong growth. The company has 159 million active users, 71 million of whom pay for a subscription to its ad-free service. Its revenue in 2017 was almost $5 billion, up 38.6 percent from the year before. But its losses also piled up; its operating loss was $461 million in 2017, up slightly from $426 million in 2016.

There’s a path here to success. Spotify’s grand theory is that as it grows, it can negotiate better rates with music labels, which then increases its chance of profitability. That’s happening — its gross margin is rising — but slowly. And it’s always going to have huge content costs; Spotify has to pay for music every time it’s streamed, whereas video streaming companies like Netflix usually pay for content just once.

But Spotify is worth rooting for. It’s one of few examples of a thriving consumer company that sits outside the clutches of large American tech firms. (It’s based in Sweden.) Its independence makes it great for consumers — Spotify works just about everywhere, from your iPhone to your Amazon Echo to your cheapo Android tablet. Because music streaming is all the company does, it has an incentive to keep improving its service; Spotify, I’ve noticed, adds excellent features faster than most of its bigger competitors add basic ones.

That’s the best reason to hope it survives.

We got your letters

Last month, I asked readers to send in ideas for tech stories they’d like to see covered in The Times. I expected to get a handful of responses; instead we were inundated with hundreds of thoughtful suggestions. And I read all of them! Thankfully, most of you were brief.

So, what would you like to see more of? A lot of things, it turns out.

Many people were interested in cryptocurrencies and the blockchains behind them. What did they want to know? The basics, really, like what’s the deal with cryptocurrencies, what is a blockchain and why is everybody suddenly talking about both? We actually have some great explainers by our Bitcoin reporter, Nathaniel Popper — and stay tuned for more.

There was also a lot of interest in “algorithmic bias,” the suspicion that the computers making so many decisions about our lives might not be fair or transparent. Readers were also interested in technologies for people who aren’t thought of as a natural audience for new tech — older people, for example, or people in rural areas. “Don’t overlook the folks who are being left behind,” said Michael Starks of Zionsville, Ind.

Many had concerns about security. They wondered if the cloud was really secure, and if there was anything they could do to make themselves safer online. That’s an area Times reporters are constantly digging into, but for now, the brief answer is: You’re never as safe as companies say you are.

Finally, there was an interest in up-and-coming tech, even tech that’s way out there. Important as they are, people are sick of hearing about Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Twitter. They want to know about quantum computers, flying cars (oh, look, we got you covered there), any manner of robots and the start-ups behind them. And even beyond that: “All these billionaires, yet no one is making serious ground on time machines or teleportation?” asked one reader.

Good question!

So, some news: This will be my last newsletter for a few months. Like my nemesis Mike Isaac, I’m going to write a book about my hobbyhorse — how Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google are conquering the world.

When I get back, I hope they put me on the time travel beat. See you then!

Farhad Manjoo writes a weekly technology column called State of the Art. You can follow him on Twitter here: @fmanjoo.

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