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Spotify boycott grows as Young v Rogan fallout continues

By | Published on Thursday 3 February 2022


A steady stream of artists and other creators continue to join the Spotify boycott over the Joe Rogan podcast, although the streaming service’s boss Daniel Ek has told investors that it’s too soon to say to what extent that boycott is having a negative impact on subscriber numbers.

The boycott was instigated by Neil Young, of course, who in turn was responding to a letter signed by 250+ scientists and medics which accused the Spotify exclusive podcast the Joe Rogan Experience of “a concerning history of broadcasting misinformation, particularly regarding the COVID-19 pandemic”.

After Young’s label confirmed it was removing the musician’s music from Spotify – and other artists piled onto social media pledging support and, in some cases, announcing that they were joining the boycott – both Ek and Rogan issued statements on Sunday evening, hoping to quell the rebellion.

Ek said that Spotify actually had solid policies for dealing with any misinformation that appears in podcasts uploaded to the platform, but that it needed to be more transparent about those policies.

He also committed to signpost COVID information approved by the scientific consensus alongside any podcast which, although adhering to Spotify’s misinformation policies, nevertheless contain controversial opinions about the pandemic. And that signposting would also apply to the platform’s biggest podcast – ie the Joe Rogan Experience.

Rogan defended his decision to book guests with controversial opinions – including known COVID vaccine critic Dr Robert Malone, whose appearance prompted that letter from the scientists – but admitted he needed to do more research when interviewing those people, so that he could better challenge their controversial opinions.

He also said that, moving forward, he will try to ensure that experts who counter-balance the controversial opinions are booked so that they directly follow and respond to said opinions, rather than appearing weeks later.

The two statements did little to placate those who had already been vocal about the Joe Rogan Experience following Young’s initial open letter on the topic, many pointing out that Ek’s commitment to deal with misinformation was no different to the commitments made by other social media and user-upload platforms.

But, with the Joe Rogan Experience, Spotify basically produces the show, so has much more control than when random third parties upload content to a digital service.

That said, it is possible that Sunday’s statements reduced the number of new artists and creators speaking out and joining the boycott. Although it certainly didn’t stop that from happening entirely. Throughout the week a number of other artists have announced they are removing their music – or have requested the removal of their music – from Spotify, while creators from elsewhere on the platform, including podcasters and comedians, have made similar statements.

Notably, yesterday former Young collaborators David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash all joined the boycott. A statement announced that the other three members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young “have requested that their labels remove their collective recordings from Spotify”.

It added: “In solidarity with their bandmate, Neil Young, and in support of stopping harmful misinformation about COVID, they have decided to remove their records from the streaming platform including the recordings of CSNY, CSN, and CN, as well as Crosby’s and Stills’ solo projects. Nash has already begun the process to take down his solo recordings”.

In a joint statement, Crosby, Stills and Nash themselves said: “We support Neil and we agree with him that there is dangerous disinformation being aired on Spotify’s Joe Rogan podcast”.

“While we always value alternate points of view, knowingly spreading disinformation during this global pandemic has deadly consequences”, they went on. “Until real action is taken to show that a concern for humanity must be balanced with commerce, we don’t want our music – or the music we made together – to be on the same platform”.

Of course, whether an artist has the unilateral right to remove their music from Spotify depends on what deals they have done over the years with any record labels or music distributors they work with, or any investment funds they just took a mega-cheque from. Young himself noted last week that he didn’t have that unilateral right under his deal with Warner Music, but the major complied with his request to take his music down from Spotify anyway.

When initially asked on Twitter last weekend if he’d follow Young’s lead in boycotting Spotify, Crosby stated: “I no longer control [my music] or I would in support of Neil”. Presumably he now hopes those in control of his catalogue will follow Warner’s lead and comply with his removal request.

He’s probably right. For starters, the CSNY catalogue is also controlled by Warner. And secondly, it seems likely no label wants to be pulled into the whole Rogan COVID misinformation hoo haa at the moment by refusing to take down any one artist’s music, even if commercially speaking they’d prefer any boycott be kept to the minimum.

Beyond music, some other podcasters on Spotify have also joined the boycott. Earlier this week the producer of the Spotify-owned science podcast Science Vs said she’d only be making new editions that debunk misinformation elsewhere on the streaming service. Meanwhile, some third party podcasters are removing their content from Spotify entirely.

That includes Mary Trump, the niece and vocal critic of former US President Donald Trump, who has a podcast called The Mary Trump Show. She stated on Twitter yesterday: “I’m removing my podcast from Spotify. I know it’s not a big deal but hope it will be part of a growing avalanche”.

Noting some of the other musicians who have joined the boycott, she added, “thank you to Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Nils Lofgren for your courage in leading the way”.

Comedians have content on Spotify too, of course, and from that community Stewart Lee is among those coming out in support of Young and the boycott.

He stated: “I am fully aware this will make no financial difference to Spotify whatsoever, but for too long internet platforms have been able to spread lies with impunity, free from the checks and balances that govern traditional publishers and broadcasters, and their efforts to correct this still do not go for enough. Perhaps artists big and small can band together to do something to change this where the money men won’t”.

With this story continuing to develop – and the boycott continuing to build – it was no surprise that investors were keen to chat about the big Young v Rogan bust up as Spotify published its latest quarterly financial report yesterday.

According to Variety, Ek said on an investor call: “Obviously, it’s been a few notable days here at Spotify. When we entered into the podcast space in 2019 with the intent to help modernise and grow the space for all types of creators, we assumed they will test and challenge our teams in new ways. And there’s no doubt that the last several weeks have presented a number of learning opportunities”.

Signposting his Sunday statement, Ek then added: “There’s still work to be done, but I’m pleased that Spotify is already implementing several first of its kind measures to help combat misinformation and provide greater transparency. We believe we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users, and we will continue to partner with experts”.

Later responding to a specific question on the Rogan controversy, he said: “I think the important part here is that we don’t change our policies based on one creator, nor do we change it based on any media cycle or call from anyone else. Our policies have been carefully written with the input from numbers of internal and external experts in this space. And I do believe they’re right for our platform”.

“And while Joe has a massive audience”, he went on, “and is actually the number one podcast in more than 90 markets, he also has to abide by those policies. So I think when you think about that and you think about the ad business, I have a tremendous amount of confidence”.

As for how the creator boycott – and the resulting social media storm – is impacting on subscriber numbers, which is to say how many subscription cancellations it has caused, Ek said it was “too early” to say. The impact over past controversies has been seen over “months not days”, he added.

Spotify’s share price slipped 13% in after hours trading following yesterday’s investor update, despite the key stats for the final quarter of 2021 being generally positive, with premium subscribers up to 180 million. The slip was likely mainly due to the growth projections Spotify shared for the current quarter, although the ongoing Young v Rogan debacle obviously doesn’t help.

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