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Spotify Isn't for Sale: So Why Is Michael Arrington Saying It Is?

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Technology journalists are famously the pawns and mouthpieces of their industry patrons, willing tools of court intrigue. TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington went with a report yesterday -- a "tip that came in…via e-mail from an anonymous source," described Arrington -- that has Spotify, the wildly popular European-based music service which is shortly to come to the U.S., in talks to sell to Apple. Arrington further offers details of acquisition talks he says Spotify has had with Google.

Spotify’s founder, the 27-year-old Stockholm-born entrepreneur Daniel Ek, told me today, with dumbfounded incredulity: "There’s nothing in that story that is true. We don’t have any interest whatsoever in selling the company to anyone and are in no discussions that could be construed to be about selling the company. We haven’t had any, are not having any, and have no intention of having any. I have absolutely no idea how he could have written that story."

The story is probably best understood as the first sally in a sure-to-be bitter battle between Apple and Spotify. While all other music services have palled and failed against iTunes, Spotify with its hybrid free-ad-supported and premium-subscription model is seen by many as having the most likely chance of offering a clear alternative to iTunes for both consumers and for the music industry -- of being, even, the iTunes killers.

It is Apple’s game to lose and, using the semiotics of tech industry journalism, they seem to be starting to play it. A smaller company looking for a buyer is a less threatening company.

Indeed, Apple, as the buyer, is suddenly the potential savior, instead of the potential target.

What’s more, a company theoretically in play is not a company other companies want to do deals with -- and Spotify, like any music distributor, needs to have deals with the music labels. And while the music labels may well want an alternative to iTunes, that alternative is instantly less attractive if there’s a possibility that iTunes is going to absorb it. The idea that Spotify is now negotiating for licenses that it is going to turn around and sell would likely sour any deal.

Anyway, back to that "tip that came in yesterday via e-mail from an anonymous source…[.]" If it sounds suspicious, it usually is.