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Spotify has been doggedly trying to take on Apple lately, making strong accusations that the iPhone maker is stifling it and going so far as to file a complaint with the European Union, accusing Apple outright of engaging in anticompetitive behaviour.
At the root of Spotify’s recent spate of complaints, as outlined by CEO and co-founder Daniel Ek, is of course Apple’s 30 percent “tax” on purchases made through the App Store, plus claims that Apple has been deliberately blocking “experience-enhancing upgrades” to Spotify’s iOS app, locking it out from accessing Siri, HomePod, and the Apple Watch — limitations that Apple’s own Music app doesn’t suffer from. For its part, Apple has announced that it will be opening Siri to Spotify in iOS 13, while denying that Spotify is paying Apple nearly as much money as it claims.
A Heated Battle
If all of this has got you thinking that Ek’s allegations against Apple seem a bit heated and personal, it appears that you may be right. A newly-released book, Spotify Untold, tells the story of a founder and CEO who may have been coming a bit unhinged as far back as 2010 as he waged a war against Apple’s market dominance.
A report by Variety outlines the key points to the book, including telling the story of a very stressed-out and slightly paranoid Ek who became convinced that Apple’s then-CEO Steve Jobs was making harassing phone calls, ostensibly to intimidate him and prevent Spotify from expanding into the U.S. market.
The year is 2010 and Spotify co-founder and CEO Daniel Ek is facing a succession of obstacles gaining entry into the U.S. market — or, more specifically, infiltrating the tightly-networked and often nepotistic to a fault music industry. As stress sets in, Ek becomes convinced that Apple’s Steve Jobs is calling his phone just to breathe deeply on the other end of the line, he purportedly confesses to a colleague.
Spotify Untold is sadly only available in Swedish right now, under the title Spotify Inifrån. In the book, the two authors, Jonas Leijonhufvud and Sven Carlsson, tell the story of how Spotify grew from a small European streaming music company into the titan that it is today, revealing many of Spotify’s secret alliances and near acquisitions, as well as the struggles that Ek faced in expanding the company into the U.S. For example, Spotify once came close to acquiring Tidal and Soundcloud, while also refusing acquisition offers from Microsoft, Google, and Tencent, and later scoring a valuable partnership with Facebook that likely helped solidify its U.S. launch.
In writing the book, the authors, who are both tech journalists for Sweden’s Di Digital, culled material from over 70 interviews conducted around the world with former Spotify executives and investors, record company executives, and competitors, some of whom spoke off the record. Notably, Ek and Spotify refused to be interviewed for the book or participate in any other way, although the authors acknowledged that Spotify’s ongoing legal battle with Apple, which is a recurring theme in the book, makes it extremely unlikely that Ek would want to talk about such sensitive topics in any book or publication that wasn’t fully under his own control.
The Steve Jobs Factor
Regarding whether the calls from Steve Jobs ever actually happened, or even whether Ek believed it was true, the authors simply said that they heard it from a trusted source, but chalked it up to anxiety and paranoia on the part of Ek, who was under considerable stress at the time, and saw Apple and Jobs as a personal enemy working to quash his ambitions.
We have that from a trusted source. Whether Steve Jobs actually called Daniel Ek is something we can’t verify. To us, Ek’s claim is as a reflection of how paranoid and anxious he must have felt in 2010, when Spotify was being denied access to the U.S. market, in large part due to pressure from Apple. The major record companies seem to have been quite loyal to the iTunes Music Store, and to Jobs personally. Apple had roughly 80 percent of the market for digital music distribution in the U.S. at the time. Jobs saw music downloads via iTunes as a comparative advantage in his ‘holy war’ against Google’s Android platform.
Sven Carlsson, author, Spotify Untold
Regardless of whether Steve Jobs was actually harassing Ek personally, there’s little doubt that the legendary Apple co-founder and CEO was in fact behind the opposition to Spotify’s efforts to establish a presence in the U.S. In fact, Carlsson described this as the most surprising discovery they made when they were researching the new book — after several months of work unravelling the details, the pair of journalists were able to get a fairly clear picture of how Jobs actively worked to oppose Spotify’s entry into the U.S., using the very strong leverage Apple had with the record labels back in those days, and even what Jobs may have been thinking.
While the book tries to paint a balanced picture of the challenges Spotify faced, both authors make it clear that they are big fans of the company, which isn’t all that surprising considering that they herald from the same small home country, making the book largely a story about how a small Swedish upstart has grown into a worldwide phenomenon. As Leijonhufvud says, “It’s an exciting David-and-Goliath story — how a young hacker from Rågsved grows up to build the world’s biggest company for music streaming, and beats Apple at their own game.”