Just a Story: Netflix Corporate Biopic of Daniel Ek

FRANKIE FOUR FINGERS

It’s a nice story, but it’s just that. Just a story.

from Snatch, written by Guy Richie

You may have noticed that there is a multi-part Netflix miniseries called “The Playlist” that is based on this book:

“The Spotify Play: How CEO and Founder Daniel Ek Beat Apple, Google and Amazon in the race for audio dominance” is an English translation of Spotify Inifrån, the Swedish book that all of this is based on, which I understand is loosely translated as “Spotify Untold” or as the inside story of Spotify. How it got from “Spotify Untold” to a title straight out of a corporate comms department of failed English majors is anyone’s guess. But notice that the book has now been refocused on the really important story–ahem–of how Daniel Ek crushed the competition and secured his monopoly on global music, or as he calls it “audio”.

For these authors to refer to music as “audio” is very much in line with the story of Spotify’s business model that Daniel Ek tells to Wall Street (which is, in all likelihood, the important audience for all this from Spotify’s perspective). Listen to any Spotify earnings call and you’ll hear what I mean.

The somewhat maniacal focus on global dominance is also interesting when you think about the fact that Daniel Ek uses the 10:1 voting stock he retains to be in global control of music streaming which may explain why Spotify’s algorithms always seem to say “Bieber.” He might want to be a bit careful about the “dominance” word.

Just in time for the Netflix debut, Spotify’s stock has tanked. Which begs the question of why Spotify was ever a public company to begin with. But that’s a story for another day. Here’s what “beating” Apple, Google and Amazon looks like (the straight red line across the bottom of the chart is where Spotify closed on its first day of trading):

You’ll notice that this chart is the relative growth on a percentage basis of all these stocks measured over the same time period. Spotify briefly outperformed the others during COVID, but now is easy to find because it is the one with the minus sign in front of its growth rate.

The Publisher’s Weekly review of the book kind of sums it up:

The authors display more enthusiasm toward Ek than readers are likely to have (they call frequent lies in his personal life “entrepreneurial hustle,” and spend pages writing about the “headaches” behind his multimillion-dollar homes), and let some of his surprising claims slide as quirks, as with an account of Ek insisting Steve Jobs was calling him to breathe over the phone and intimidate him. 

I think if you do the timeline of this Steve Jobs anecdote, you will find it particularly odd because Steve was kind of busy at that time. He was busy dying. Which makes the anecdote both troubling and kind of sick.

I happened to have a chat with a Hollywood film executive–let’s call him/her “Bubba”–about the Netflix miniseries and the odd way that a book in Swedish was set up for production at Netflix at lightning speed without ever being on a best seller list or gaining an audience.

“Smell that?” said Bubba, doing an impression of Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now. “Nothing else in the world smalls like that. Smells like…astroturf.”

Really? I said. Which part?

“All of it,” Bubba said. “But look, it’s just a story. A bunch of workers got paid to tell a story that some rich guy wanted told a certain way. Those workers may go on to do something important like send their kid to college or write the next Citizen Kane or Chinatown. Or Dirty Harry for that matter. But this month they could pay for gas and their mortgage. Just another day in Hollywood. Let’s get the steak tartare.”

So lots of questions about how this book came to be written and miniseries came to be made. The solution is likely the same as it is for radio payola–disclosure.

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