Here’s a grim new thing to consider: A reality where you have to pay money to avoid the effects of payola. As TechCrunch reports, Spotify has lately been testing a new “sponsored songs” ad unit. Labels can pay to have certain songs show up on playlists that people follow or elsewhere on the service. These won’t be obvious advertising banners, like other Spotify ads. Instead, they’ll be micro-targeted to people who have been shown to prefer a certain kind of music.
According to Spotify, if that test is successful, the sponsored-songs thing will officially roll out for users of the free Spotify tier. There will be an option to opt out of it in the Spotify settings menu, but it might only be available to people paying to use the premium version of Spotify.
This is the basic equivalent of payola, the old and illegal tactic where labels would pay radio stations to play their music. If the advertised songs are clearly labeled as paid advertisements, Spotify’s feature might be technically legal, but the effect will basically be the same. The idea, it seems, is for users to hear these sponsored songs without realizing that they’re sponsored. And that, in a word, is payola.