How To Translate an Article on Spotify Finances into Non Magic Unicorn Math

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The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Spotify is close to finishing a new round of funding that values the money losing streaming service at approximately $8.4 Billion dollars.

Spotify nears deal to raise $400 million in a funding round valuing the company at $8.4 billion 

Now many of you that work for normal companies outside of Silicon Valley’s bubble-and-bullshit based economy are a little confused by the financial reporting on Spotify.   You see in the music tech industry they use a special kind of financial analysis generally referred to as Magic Unicorn Math (MUM).  It works very differently than the kind of financial analysis (non-MUM) used by businesses that are non-exploitative, make profits, and actually add value to our nation’s GDP.   Here let me give you an example:

Since Spotify is a a music tech company the Wall Street Journal correctly  uses MUM financial standards to report on it’s finances:

The money-losing company needs the cash to support its costly business model of paying nearly 70% of its revenue to rights holders as royalties. Spotify said in January that it had about 45 million free users and 15 million who pay $9.99 a month for an ad-free version.

If you break down this statement you can clearly see the differences between a “Magical Unicorn Math” financial analysis and Non-MUM financial analysis.  For instance if you were doing a financial analysis of a grocery store chain, you would use NON-MUM analysis and would never report as remarkable that a grocery store pays out 70% of it’s revenues for groceries. After all groceries are it’s primary product. Of course they pay a substantial portion of their revenues for this product!

However when you use MUM financial analysis,  paying for your primary product is not just unusual, it’s outside the pseudo-scientific quasi-religious postulates of Magic Unicorn Math financial analysis.  In MUM financial analysis your product or  “content” is expected to magically appear on your platform or network. Without ever having to pay for it!

Well I shouldn’t say “magically” because there is a real honest to goodness religious theory behind the magic.  The theory relies on something called “unicorn drag.”   Unicorn drag was first postulated by Dr. Blake Morgan.  As described by Dr Morgan “unicorn drag is a kind of ‘dark matter’ that is shed by unicorns as they invisibly zip about the board rooms of venture capital firms.”

In MUM financial analysis simply by building a platform or network, “unicorn drag” invisibly compels rights holders to freely give up their works at below market rates (or even for free!) so that venture capitalists can profit handsomely through an IPO or  “liquidity event”.   Liquidity events are sometimes more informally referred to as “bilking pension funds and little old ladies out of their life savings.”   Now this is a little confusing because our normal “civilized” ethics would discourage people from profiting in this manner and those that did profit in this manner would normally be shunned or even imprisoned.

However the Old Norse/Silicon Valley/Venture Capital religion on which MUM is based celebrates the “liquidity event.”   According to this particular mythology, the greater the abject immorality of your liquidity event the greater your reward in the afterlife.  Legend has it that those who profit the most shamelessly get to sit and drink from the skulls of their victims at the table of the great crypto-fascist-liBRATarian God Peter Thiel.   Skol!!

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I think I’ve made my point.  Let’s look at that WSJ statement again:

The money-losing company needs the cash to support its costly business model of paying nearly 70% of its revenue to rights holders as royalties. Spotify said in January that it had about 45 million free users and 15 million who pay $9.99 a month for an ad-free version.

For all of you that live in the real world, here’s how that WSJ paragraph should have been written using Non-MUM financial analysis:

The money-losing company needs the cash to buttress meager revenues from the advertising supported free tier of their service.   Spotify said in January that it had about 45 million free users and 15 million who pay $9.99 a month for an ad-free version.

(ED NOTE: We believe that the 15 million paying $9.99 a month is probably not correct, from our reading it looks like WSJ is counting users paying $4.99 a month in that $9.99 a month tier.)

About Dr. David C Lowery

Platinum selling singer songwriter for the bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven; platinum selling producer; founder of pitch-a-tent records; founder Sound of Music Studios; platinum selling music publisher; angel investor; digital skeptic; college lecturer and founder of the University of Georgia Terry College Artists' Rights Symposium.

4 thoughts on “How To Translate an Article on Spotify Finances into Non Magic Unicorn Math

  1. Do these journalists get that wrong on purpose?? I actually contacted someone else who used that “fact” in a different article (on a reasonably reputable site) today.

    Spotify, in January, announced that they have 15 million paying subscribers – it didn’t say what amount those 15 million were paying. Based on the discounts introduced in 2014, it’s a fair assumption that the average per subscriber monthly payment is significantly lower than $9.99.

    March 2014: intro’d student plan at $4.99/month

    October 2014: intro’d family plan (lets you add up to 4 premium users to a single account – which means that the price can be as low as $2.50 per month per premium user).

    December 2014: intro’d $0.99/month for 3 months promotional offer (no word on how many of those users have stayed on at the $9.99 price after the promotional period)

    Shockingly, Spotify had a lot of growth in 2014 – the vast majority of which seems to have been fueled by slashing that $9.99 price.

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