Daniel Ek’s Edifice Complex: Millions for tribute, but not one red cent for royalties as Spotify buys naming rights to biggest football stadium in Europe

If screwups were Easter eggs, Daniel Ek would be the Easter bunny. Right in the middle of Spotify’s crashing stock price, billion-dollar stock buy backs, shenanigans at the Copyright Royalty Board (which grows more chaotic by the day), the Joe Rogan controversy, and an investigation by the UK competition authorities after an investigation by the Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee of the UK House of Commons, here’s another Easter egg that Little Danny missed.

According to Marca, the sport site based in Spain, Ek is soothing his (so far) failed bid to buy the UK football club Arsenal by acquiring the naming rights to Barcelona FC’s super-stadium, Camp Nou, the largest football stadium in Europe. According to Marca:

Sponsorship seems to be the way in which Laporta hopes to get the Blaugrana out of the red and into the black.

An agreement with music streaming platform Spotify, which is expected to be confirmed imminently, will see the club receive 225 million euros.

In turn, Spotify will sponsor the men and women’s shirts as well as their training wear. Furthermore, Spotify will have the rights to the stadium for the next three seasons- which has received mixed reviews from fans of the club.

Barcelona expect annual income of 20 million euros from Spotify to sponsor the Camp Nou, which is estimated to be more than Manchester City‘s deal with Etihad – who sponsor their stadium for 15 million euros per season.

That’s right–not one red cent for artists (or songwriters) but millions for tribute. And how did this deal come about do you think? Well, realize that Barcelona is also shopping for a rather large loan to renovate the Camp Nou stadium and they turned to…Goldman Sachs, which happens to be one of Spotify’s investment bankers. So which came first?

Does Goldman think there’s anything unethical about a company that screws creators all the livelong day but spends hundreds of millions on naming a soccer stadium after itself? (OK, I got that out with a straight face, but you can laugh now.) Evidently not, because in the catechism of Goldman, you stop at the fees novena.

And speaking of fees, what is the source of funds for Daniel Ek’s latest self-aggrandizement or whatever you call it? Perhaps a loan from Goldman before interest rates spike this year if the Federal Reserve really does say goodbye to the easy money era that has bubbled up assets around the world?

@ddayen: Spotify’s Risk Doesn’t End With Joe Rogan

A critical mass of artists who demand changes at Spotify could get something done, however, since Spotify relies on them to make their product worthwhile. Spotify promises its customers that, by paying one subscription fee, you get access to essentially all recorded music. If the Young firestorm continues, suddenly Spotify would be a balkanized platform, losing fans of the various artists who object to Rogan. It wouldn’t be able to rely on the network effects that make people think they cannot live without Spotify, because it’s one-stop shopping for everything audio.

The situation could inspire artists to realize their power in another context: demanding fair compensation for their work. An artist boycott based on being treated like sharecroppers by the streaming giant could gain a lot of traction. Unfortunately, the (understandable) business decisions of some legacy artists, extreme inequality among musical artists, and the way in which musicians are beset on all sides by monopolies may make it difficult to make headway.

Read the post on The American Prospect

It’s All About the Stock: Tone deaf Spotify Insiders Vote for Stock Buyback to Juice Their Share Price While Congress Questions Streaming Payola

Spotify announced a second billion dollar stock buy back last week which means they have $1 billion in free cash that they will spend, not for paying artists, not for paying songwriters, but to juice their stock price and make Spotify insiders and senior employees richer still. Remember that Spotify already did this once before in the pre-pandemic. Just like they lavish the artists’ money on their fancy World Trade Center offices and buying the Arsenal Football Club, a second billion dollar stock buy back means more of the same while they pay artists a pittance, songwriters even less and session performers not at all.

Every Spotify employee should understand that the income disparity between their monopoly business practices and the creators who drive the fans to their platform that Spotify monetizes out the back door has never been so dire.

Why do you care? A few reasons. First, it demonstrates that Spotify has plenty of cash laying around despite its continued loss making–which confirms the “get big fast” and devil take the hindmost strategy that has driven the company to make its insiders extraordinarily rich. So when Spotify tell you (and the UK Parliament) that they can’t pay a fair royalty because they’re struggling so much, here’s more evidence that those claims really are as much bunk as they sound like.

Second, it highlights the value transfer from featured artists who barely get paid at all and non-featured artists who really don’t get paid at all. The real value to the music that Spotify pays at a hundredths of a penny is reflected in the share price and market value, not the revenue which they refuse to increase as they pursue their growth strategy. This failure to allow the creators that make their company to capture value through higher royalties is the subject of a study I co-wrote for the World Intellectual Property Organization and is underlying the Spotify royalty crisis.

But perhaps most importantly it’s yet another tone deaf move by Spotify that ignores both the Congressional payola inquiry into Spotify’s business practices as well as the streaming income inequality that’s argued every day as the walls close in on songwriters trying to make a living and artists trying to tour in a life threatening environment. As Senators Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer wrote in a New York Times op-ed, stock buybacks should not come at the expense of workers, which I would argue includes artists and songwriters in Spotify’s case. For a deeper dive, see Profits Without Prosperity by the economist William Lazonick in the Harvard Business Review.

Professor Lazonick tells us:

Though corporate profits are high, and the stock market is booming, most Americans are not sharing in the economic recovery. While the top 0.1% of income recipients reap almost all the income gains, good jobs keep disappearing, and new ones tend to be insecure and underpaid.

One of the major causes: Instead of investing their profits in growth opportunities, corporations are using them for stock repurchases. Take the 449 firms in the S&P 500 that were publicly listed from 2003 through 2012. During that period, they used 54% of their earnings—a total of $2.4 trillion—to buy back their own stock. Dividends absorbed an extra 37% of their earnings. That left little to fund productive capabilities or better incomes for workers.

Why are such massive resources dedicated to stock buybacks? Because stock-based instruments make up the majority of executives’ pay, and buybacks drive up short-term stock prices. 

Here’s the Spotify press release:

Spotify Technology S.A. (NYSE: SPOT) (the “Company”) today announced that it will commence a stock repurchase program beginning in the third quarter of 2021. Repurchases of up to 10,000,000 of the Company’s ordinary shares have been authorized by the Company’s general meeting of shareholders, and the Board of Directors approved such repurchases up to the amount of $1.0 billion. The authorization to repurchase will expire on April 21, 2026. The timing and actual number of shares repurchased will depend on a variety of factors, including price, general business and market conditions, and alternative investment opportunities. The repurchase program will be executed consistent with the Company’s capital allocation strategy, which will continue to prioritize aggressive investments to grow the business.

“This announcement demonstrates our confidence in Spotify’s business and the growth opportunities we see over the long term,” said Paul Vogel, Chief Financial Officer at Spotify. “We believe this is an attractive use of capital, and based on the strength of our balance sheet, we continue to see ample opportunity to invest and grow our business.”

Under the repurchase program, repurchases can be made from time to time using a variety of methods, including open market purchases, all in compliance with the rules of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission and other applicable legal requirements.

The repurchase program does not obligate the Company to acquire any particular amount of ordinary shares, and the repurchase program may be suspended or discontinued at any time at the Company’s discretion.

What are they not telling you? Well, first of all I’m not so sure how strong the Spotify balance sheet really is, with all due respect to Mr. Vogel (who is no doubt pitching a stock buyback that he probably personally benefits from as a shareholder). Without grinding through details, let’s say that Spotify’s stock is down 30% from its COVID-induced highs so there’s that. Someone else seems to think the balance sheet isn’t all that.

Why do I say that Spotify’s stock buy back juices the share price and earnings per share? It’s simple–you keep the financial metrics like revenue and earnings separate and constant. The share price and earnings per share is a function of market capitalization, a ratio based on the number of shares outstanding. And here’s the key: By reducing the number of outstanding shares alone, you can increase the stock price and the earnings per share without actually changing anything about the company’s financial performance (kind of like a reverse stock split).

Stock repurchases are usually funded through hitting an account called “retained earnings” and buying the shares in the open market at a fixed price, sometimes through a tender offer. If there is insufficient retained earnings, the company can take on debt. Spotify doesn’t mention in its press release exactly how this particular buyback will be financed, but it’s usually one or the other, and otherwise in compliance with the SEC Rule 10b-18 safe harbor for issue repurchases for those reading along at home.

The key takeaways:

  1. Spotify is a monopolist and has plenty of money
  2. Spotify is doing a stock repurchase to juice the share price and make it look higher than it is, fooling no one on Wall Street
  3. The major beneficiaries are Spotify insiders like Daniel Ek who control the company, the board and all shareholder votes.
  4. Spotify have the money to compensate featured artists, nonfeatured performers (musicians and vocalists) and songwriters but choose to spend it on themselves.

Spotify Continues Profiting from Human Misery

In case you missed it, the creator’s loss is Spotify’s gain.  No, today is different than usual, because this time Spotify’s gain is not just tied to the misery of artists and songwriters, it’s actually tied to the whole world.  According to TechCrunch:

The coronavirus may be decimating some corners of the economy, but the impact on the digital music, as evidenced by the world’s biggest music streaming company, appears to be minimal. Today Spotify reported its earnings for Q1 with revenues of €1.848 billion ($2 billion at today’s rates) and an inching into a positive net income of $1 million. Monthly active users (not total subscribers) now stand at 286 million, with paid (premium) users at 130 million and ad-supported monthly active users at 163 million. Ad-supported users are growing at a slightly higher rate at the moment, at 32% versus 31%, Spotify said.

So far today, SPOT is up $16 a share, which means Daniel Ek made roughly $656,000,000 today alone.  And that doesn’t count the warrants.

So the bubbly is flowing at World Trade Center or wherever the Spotify elites are hiding out.

Just like at your house, right?

Do they care about your problems?

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