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Spotify’s take on the Top 40: Evolution, or demise?

In a second-quarter letter to its shareholders, Swedish music platform super-heavyweight Spotify made the statement that the traditional model of the “Top 40” chart is dying out.

In the face of digital streaming, artists have to rely less on record company giants and have more freedom for self-promotion and choices regarding creative direction. The letter goes on to state that “Gone are the days of the Top 40, its now the top 43,000.” However, how well does this claim hold up?

To assess this statement, we will use the United States as a model. In 2012, Billboard itself started to include streaming tracks in its calculations for Top 40 songs, shortly followed by the RIAA and Nielsen to follow suit (author’s note: Nielsen’s TV ratings system has been in use since the 1950’s after cutting their teeth on radio broadcasts. The more you know!)

Admittedly the invention of the Top 40 went some way to keep better track of charting records and in this way help eliminate some of the shadier record companies from gaming the system. As the Washington Post’s Travis M. Andrew explains, “many record companies would simply send out a bunch of records. Even if they ended up getting half of them back, the albums would climb the charts”

We should also bear in mind that Spotify sells most of its subscriptions in the U.S., the EU and Latin America. Outside of these areas, they have struggled to sell subscriptions even when offering a three-month Premium subscription for free. To spread a wider net, the argument can be made that streaming services and the availability of music online brings much more variety and a wider audience than selling physical records could and therefore the figures are representing that change.

What do you think about Spotify’s statement? Are the days of the Top 40 truly fossilized or salvageable in a new era? Let us know in your shares!

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