There has been speculation that it might be launching soon here
If you live in Pakistan, you must be using Spotify through a VPN. Or through a crack some guy who pretends to be a techie has told you. You click on a playlist, it plays four songs, and then it randomly stops. Then you sometimes clear the cache, or uninstall and reinstall the app, and it is annoying, but you decide it’s worth it.
The music streaming app is not available in Pakistan. But there has been speculation that it might be launching soon here. It already is available in India and other emerging economies in Asia. Two developments have fuelled the speculation: People discovered a verified Instagram account of Spotify. It has over 17,000 followers already. Then a basic Google search throws up job openings by Spotify for the “South Asia Subset”.
The job, titled “Editorial Manager – South Asia Subset”, based in Dubai, was posted to a jobs website called Tanqeeb in August. Another was “Artist and Label Partnerships Manager – South Asia Subset” posted on Spotifyjobs, but when you click on the page, it says, “Looks like the job has been closed or cancelled”.
A source in the industry told SAMAA Digital that he has heard rumours that people were being contacted for interviews. He says he does not know who those people are, and he did not ask about it, “but seeing the verified account, I assumed it’s happening.”
Singer Natasha Noorani said that she has heard the app is coming to Pakistan, and pointed to the same job vacancies posted.
Singer Shamoon tweeted Tuesday, “I confirm Spotify is coming to Pakistan,” but gave no more details.
SAMAA Digital contacted Spotify for comment and will add their input as soon as we hear back from them.
What’s the hype about Spotify?
In order to understand why people get excited about Spotify, first think about SoundCloud. It is an easy-to-use app, but most of all, it’s free. You can also set up your own account. It became popular in Pakistan when the authorities banned YouTube for three years, in 2010 over sacrilegious content.
In the absence of a functional music eco-system in Pakistan, many musicians and artists started putting their music on SoundCloud. They uploaded their work on Facebook too, with its improved video posts but SoundCloud provided anyone and everyone a way to upload their music. But there was one drawback.
You feel like listening to Arctic Monkeys? Maybe Shakira? On SoundCloud you first have to trawl through hundreds of really bad covers uploaded by amateur singers or just bored people before you can find the original songs. With Spotify this is not an issue. It is built so that you can easily find original work and artists right on top.
Another obvious advantage is you don’t have to keep the Spotify tab open to use it, unlike YouTube. It has an app for desktop and mobile.
But for Pakistan, it is about more than that. It is about the internet and digital infrastructure, and digital payments.
Pakistan has a problem with slow internet speed, low internet penetration, and low mobile use. According to May 2019 data from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), total broadband, 3G, 4G and landline internet users in Pakistan increased to 70 million from 64 million in December 2018. The number of total cellular subscribers in Pakistan had reached 161 million by end-April 2019, 1.26% more than 159 million in the previous month.
What the PTA does not, however, provide is a breakdown of these figures according to regions and provinces. Since development infrastructure is abysmal in rural areas, this is true for their internet too. So while Pakistan ranked 116th, ahead of India, in the Ookla Speedtest Global Index 2020, the overall internet speeds can be said to be low in rural areas.
This means that if you do not live in one of the major cities in Pakistan, chances are you still go to your neighborhood telecom shop to get a song you like transferred to your phone. Another option is to download songs from websites. Remember ApniISP.com? Yes, it is still very much there, and lets you download audio songs. It was the go-to website for downloading music when dial-up internet became widespread in Pakistan.
So why hasn’t Spotify come to Pakistan yet?
“Ultimately, I think the big question is, what is the industry, and what sort of monetisation is available and that is probably the reason Pakistan has not had a streaming app show up until now,” says culture and music writer Ahmer Naqvi. “On both those counts, Pakistan doesn’t really have a proper music industry.”
A major challenge for international apps anywhere is payments. “I think, the only question is payments, how easy it is to make payments, how widespread that is because obviously, that’s how that app is going to make its money, and is going to be able to do the things it needs to do,” he added.
A number of digital payment platforms have cropped up in the past decade, like EasyPaisa, JazzCash, and more recently Keenu and SadaPay. JazzCash lets you pay for a host of things from its app, while the others provide useful but limited digital payment options. It partnered with Saavn, a New-York based streaming app that distributes Indian and Pakistani music. But there aren’t other major such partnerships.
India’s Paytm, a major digital platform there, is one of payments partners of Spotify in the country.
Spotify can only be accessed in Pakistan through a crack or a VPN if you are an average user. There are two stumbling blocks here. If you are using it with the help of a crack—a hack that installs it from other sources—you can be signed out and lose your playlists. If you are using Spotify on a VPN, then your VPN has to be on at all times.
With additional reporting by Yousuf Sajjad.