Spotify Should Spend Its Latest Billion Dollars Fixing Its Dumbest Bug

Spotify users are only allowed to save—not download locally, but "save," as in bookmark—9,999 songs to their personal library. This is insane.

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Mar 31 2016, 2:00pm

Spotify has raised another billion dollars in funding, and everyone wants to know what the music streaming giant is going to do with it. Peter Kafka's prediction that the company will dive deep into video makes sense, but I've got another suggestion for what to do with that unfathomable amount of money: Why not fix the service's most asinine limitation?

I've been paying for Spotify for a couple years now, and months ago I hit a wall: Users are only allowed to save—not download locally, but "save," as in bookmark—9,999 songs to their personal library.

To be extra clear, I'm not talking about the limit on how many songs you can add to a specific playlist, which is also 9,999. I'm talking about "Your Library," which Spotify also calls "Your Music." Spotify has adopted the concept of a "library" in the same way iTunes has—a list of music you have set aside as your own. Sure, it's not the same as a stack of vinyl in your living room, but it's supposed to be similar: music you decided you liked and put in a place in order to easily return to it.

What's odd is that while Spotify has rejected the idea of owning physical music in favor of streaming it, it's still basically simulating the limitations of a physical music library. It's an excellent feature, for I can collect and listen to digital media in the same way as I collect physical records. Except unlike any other medium, Spotify is telling me I can't put more than 9,999 track listings in my fake digital library. For something I use every day, and which is all-around a good service, this makes just about no sense whatsoever.

Just so we're all clear here, here's an example: I "saved" the this Protomartyr album to my library, which merely bookmarks the album in my library and syncs across all devices. This is an awesome feature for not forgetting music I like or want to listen to in the future. It's the only feature that replicates actually collecting music, which is the main reason I use Spotify.

After saving the album, it shows up in my library. Hey, look, this is great! Looks just like a record collection. This is everything I want.

I've never been good at remembering albums or bands in passing, so in the past, any time I heard a song or an artist I liked, I'd save their album so I could listen to it later. This is pretty much how I find all new music these days: Listen to internet radio or Spotify's artist-based radio or whatever source of unheard jams I can find, then save the albums of artists that catch my ear, and repeat. Seems simple enough, right?

Now, if I want to save an album, I have to either unsave something else, or add that album to a rapidly cluttered series of playlists I've got as a stopgap. (This latter solution is what a Spotify support person recommended when I first asked about this in a non-professional capacity.)

But restart the Spotify instance and it's gone.

Sometimes, but not always, Spotify will remind you that it's had enough of your saving.

By way of comparison, I have something like 20,000 songs uploaded to a free Google Play Music library that's just sitting on the cloud somewhere on the off chance I need it. But in this case, I'm not even talking about taking up gigabytes of new hard drive space—Spotify won't even let me bookmark new music that's already on its servers, despite users complaining about it for years. Spotify bills itself as THE music library, one that can replace just about everything else you have. Sure, access is the new ownership, but you think you'd at least be able to bookmark a few more songs.

Then again, it's not clear why the limit is 9,999 songs in the first place. Representatives from Spotify's PR firm did not respond to emails asking for comment, but some responses on Spotify's support boards offer a bit of insight. The service limits how many songs users can download locally to their device to play offline, which years ago was chalked up to licensing agreements. It makes sense: It's not hard to imagine a scenario where a rather committed cheapskate downloads thousands and thousands of albums via a paid Spotify account, then takes their device offline to save cash. Whether or not that would actually happen, it's enough to see how download limits would be a part of licensing negotiations.

But what about the limit on "saving" songs and albums? (Again, this does nothing more than save that album's metadata to your library so you don't forget it later.) "We've recently reviewed this internally and at the moment we don't have plans to extend the Your Music limit," said a Spotify staff member in September 2015, in response to a user query on Spotify's message boards. "The reason is because less than 1% of users reach it. The current limit ensures a great experience for 99% of users instead of an 'OK' experience for 100%."

Why would saving more songs degrade the user experience? No idea.

Now, this is obviously just a complaining blog post that I've been putting off writing for months precisely because I hate complaining blog posts (even if this one is definitely in support of all you other Spotify users out there, suffering along to arbitrary library limitations). I don't want to get too persnickety or haughty about this, but I do find it ridiculous that an $8+ billion company isn't able to get its basic services correct. (That's not to mention strange UI choices, like Spotify's queue being called a "queue" on its desktop app, while it's called "Up Next" on mobile. The switch to "Up Next" was for clarity reasons, but it hasn't yet been updated on the latest Mac desktop client [1.0.25.127].)

Okay, so I'm really whining now, but this is just silly.

It's easy for the company to dismiss people with a lot of music bookmarked in their library as the rare power user, but it's also remarkably short-sighted. Spotify's looking to be the long-term future of music libraries, which are both highly personal and full of friction—the more albums I have saved in my Spotify library, the higher the barrier to switching to a new service. Imagine, from Spotify's view, if I'd spent the last six months saving more and more albums, getting further locked into the service. Now push that out for another few years. Spotify is hamstringing the growth of its most dedicated user base for reasons unknown.

And in light of the news about Spotify's new investment, along with the struggles of competing services like Rdio or Tidal, it's important to remember just how much clout Spotify has. If Spotify couldn't be bothered to fix a simple issue when it had competitors nipping at its heels, how well is it going to take care of users as it further asserts its dominance?