Spotify’s Estimated $150M Songwriter Royalty Cuts: Music Industry Reactions (Updating)

Spotify is changing the way it pays songwriters and publishers in the United States — leading to an estimated $150 million cut to U.S. mechanical royalty payments — and the music business is speaking out.

By adding audiobooks into Spotify’s premium, duo and family tiers, Spotify now claims it qualifies to pay a discounted “bundle” rate to songwriters for premium streams given that it now has to pay licensing for both books and music from the same subscription price tag — which will only be a dollar higher than when music was the only offering.


Spotify argues that adding audiobooks reclassifies the service from a “standalone portable subscription” to a “bundled subscription offering,” according to the royalty rate formula provided in Phonorecords IV. The National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) and Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), both of which represented the music business in Phono IV proceedings, disagree with Spotify’s reading of the settlement, with the NMPA calling it “a cynical and potentially unlawful move” that is a “perversion of the settlement we agreed upon in 2022.”

Last week, Billboard calculated that this change will lead to an estimated $150 million cut in U.S. mechanical royalties from premium, duo and family plans for the first 12 months the bundle rate is in effect, compared to what songwriters would have earned if the three subscription tiers were never bundled. The change affects payments starting in March 2024, so it will not impact Spotify’s premium, duo or family payouts for the first two months of 2024. Specifically, the estimate refers to losses for the first 12 months after the premium, family and duo tiers are qualified as a bundle, not calendar year 2024.

As Spotify grows, the music business fears that the difference between what payments to songwriters and publishers would have been if premium continued to be counted as a regular standalone service versus what will be paid now that music and audiobooks have been bundled will continue to increase.

Spotify says it will soon offer a music-only subscription tier that will pay out in the same way Spotify premium used to, but there’s not yet a timeline for when this option will launch.

Back in March, Spotify released a statement about the change to the bundle rate, stating that the company is “on track to pay publishers and societies more in 2024 than in 2023. As our industry partners are aware, changes in our product portfolio mean that we are paying out in different ways based on terms agreed to by both streaming services and publishers. Multiple DSPs have long paid a lower rate for bundles versus a stand-alone music subscription, and our approach is consistent.”


Below is an updating list of music industry reactions to the news:

National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA)

“It appears Spotify has returned to attacking the very songwriters who make its business possible.  Spotify’s attempt to radically reduce songwriter payments by reclassifying their music service as an audiobook bundle is a cynical, and potentially unlawful, move that ends our period of relative peace. We will not stand for their perversion of the settlement we agreed upon in 2022 and are looking at all options.”

Association of Independent Music Publishers (AIMP)

“Two weeks ago, we spoke out about the potential consequences for independent music publishers should Spotify go forward with its plan to bundle a previously free service, audiobooks, with music subscriptions. Now that an actual number has been put to the potential lost revenue for music publishers, a staggering estimate of $150 million per year, we feel the need to speak out again.

“It is a deeply cynical move for Spotify to attempt to circumvent the CRB settlement agreed to by the NMPA & NSAI and DiMA in 2022 via this bundling ‘loophole,’ and further insulting that the price of a Spotify subscription will actually increase for users while cutting revenue for the songwriters who keep their business alive. This is especially problematic for independent music publishers, as they and all publishers are legally prevented from negotiating protections against bad-faith tactics such as this, while labels are allowed to do so in a free market.

“At this point, we still do not know how Spotify plans to notify its subscribers of this change. The right thing to do is to default existing subscribers to music-only accounts, and then give them the option to add-on the audiobook service for an additional $9.99 per month — Spotify’s proposed standalone rate for audiobooks. This ensures a proper, non-devalued royalty rate for both music and audiobook publishers and rightsholders, who will otherwise both be negatively affected by bundling.

“The AIMP offers its unequivocal support to the NMPA as they fight this critical battle to prevent Spotify’s scheme from taking effect. We encourage all independent music publishers to join us in this stance and make their songwriters aware of this attack on their livelihood. We cannot allow bundling to become a precedent that can be used to deprive songwriters of their well-earned royalties.

“The AIMP has also been speaking with the Coalition of Concerned Creators and are happy to report that we are aligned on this issue. Please find their statement on this issue below.

“From the Coalition of Concerned Creators:

“All musicians, creator advocacy groups, unions and organizations, and other creator stakeholders — including authors and podcasters — must stand firm against Spotify’s recent policy shift. It is essential to advocate for equitable compensation for music creators, who are pivotal to the industry’s sustainability. Additionally, this is a clear pattern of behavior and we continue to be concerned about Spotify’s bridge into new audio formats, like audiobooks, and how this pattern of behavior will affect other creators, like authors, as well.”

Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI)

“Spotify, we are writing regarding Spotify’s decision to ‘bundle’ music with audiobooks, resulting in an estimated annual loss of as much as $150 million in mechanical royalty payments to American songwriters, composers and music publishers. This attempt at lowering royalty payments to an already beleaguered songwriter community is in the worst bad faith and a perversion of the Copyright Royalty Board settlement that the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), the National Music Publishers Assn. (NMPA) and the Digital Media Assn. (DiMA) agreed to in 2022.  It counters every statement Spotify has ever made of claiming the company is friendly to creators.

“‘Bundling’ music with other offerings without a music-only option does not comport with our view of the intent of the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) in recent Phonorecord procedures in which the NSAI participated.  Further, this move negates gains awarded to songwriters by the CRB.  NSAI will not accept what we view as an attempt to manipulate the intent of the court through a ‘bundling’ gimmick. NSAI calls for Spotify to immediately reverse its course and offer separate music subscription choices at price points that will fairly remunerate songwriters.

“The American songwriter community is appalled that this is happening while Spotify is reporting record profits, and while founder Daniel Ek has recently cashed in a reported $180 million in stock options, including $118 million that practically coincided with the ‘bundling’ announcement which reduced Spotify’s yearly royalty obligation. The amount Ek cashed in conveniently mirrors the estimated amount that Spotify wants to leech off the back of songwriters who create the product on which streaming services are making billions.

“Reporting record profits while reducing songwriter royalties as the company founder cashed in millions in stocks proves a greedy, offensive and callous disregard for the songwriters on whose backs these revenues are generated.

“Signed unanimously by Nashville Songwriters Association International”

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