CEO-splaining the Rogan deal to Spotify employees

Ek: “It is really important to me that you understand why we did this deal and the impact it’s had on our growth strategy and the way we think about our role as a platform.”

Spotify has put effort into hiring some of the world’s top talent. To assume that the same people do not understand why Spotify has made the deal with Joe Rogan is to disparage their capacity for understanding how their own company makes money.

Image showing the cover art for episode 1757 of JRE. An arrow points to how Spotify put their logo on the cover art in a co-branding effort. The episode features Dr. Robert Malone who was banned from Twitter for spreading covid-19 misinformation.

Ek: “So I want to stop for a moment here and acknowledge that this is incredibly complicated, and that the push and pull of this process makes a lot of people uncomfortable.”

Is it complicated for Daniel Ek or for Spotify’s employees? Unclear. Again, none of this is rocket science and the type of controversy that is unraveling is one that many have been exposed to before. Publications and media of all forms throughout history have entertained controversial content that do not reflect the values of the publication.

Illustration that explains the difference between platform relationships and publisher relationships. In a platform relationship the platform can help creators publish and make it valuable for them by profit-sharing the fees charged by users of the platform. In a publisher relationship individual deals are struck with content creators, with platform exclusivity granted through payments and certainly with requirements of publishing X number of episodes within a given time frame. In a publisher relationship the platform also runs a content moderation team that can take down content based on publishing guidelines.

Ek: “Joe is held to the same standards, rules, and policies that every creator on our platform is held to, no matter how big or how small, no matter how much we pay for that content. And creators like Joe, they know how to walk really close to the lines, and sometimes they cross those lines, and when it’s in violation of our policies, we act.”

Three logical fallacies are going on here (update: sorry four logical fallacies):

  1. That a show is doing okay if it is constantly walking really close to a Spotify defined line as long as it does not cross it.
  2. That any such line can be clearly defined.
  3. That Spotify’s signed contract, exclusive deal, investment in and promotion of JRE wouldn’t mean they have publisher responsibility in ways they do not have with podcasts that are simply publishing on their platform without any reimbursement or special treatment.

Ek: “We’re not in the business of dictating the discourse that these creators want to have on their shows.”

This time I can only refer you to the statement Daniel Ek himself just made:

Ek: “And if we only wanted to make content that we all like and agree with, we will need to eliminate religion, and politics, and comedy, and health, and environment, and education, the list goes on and on and on because these are really complicated issues.”

Oh this one’s a doozy. A classic hollow man argument. And there’s that word again: complicated.

  • the accountability Spotify is willing to acknowledge for investing in and promoting harmful content,
  • the lengths to which Spotify is willing to go to grow to meet a pre-defined number of “50 million creators and a billion users”, and
  • how employees will be expected to contribute to the advancement of content that harms themselves, their friends and a number of people they are building the service for.

Ek: “For those of you who aren’t aware,The Joe Rogan Experience is currently the top podcast in 93 markets, so it’s impossible to ignore its scale and reach. Or to put it plainly, he’s the number one podcaster in the world by a wide margin.”

Daniel Ek is proud to have landed this deal with JRE. It’s a huge deal for Spotify. Employees are acutely aware of this. I’m not sure it’s helpful to repeat it. Emphasising scale and reach is really just drawing attention again to why JRE can impose greater harm than any other show. And in fact, the takeaway from this is that Spotify truly want to increase that scale and reach even further.

The huge drop in Spotify value

Any discussion about Spotify as a business in early 2022 will necessarily have to be on the backdrop of the decline in Spotify stock value. Spotify stock (SPOT) has lost 33% of its value over the past month and almost 50% over the last year.

Diagram showing the drop in value of the Spotify stock over the past year.

The ethics catch

I know that ethics, and promoting wellbeing in their work, is important to many Spotify employees. This is clearly demonstrated through initiatives like the ethics assessment worksheet, put together by The Spotify Ethics Guild.

Addendum

This article addresses the CEO speech and is about the communicative aspects of a CEO addressing employees. It is not about the specific harms of the show. If you do not believe the show is harmful to the extent that is implied, the communicative aspects of this speech are still a relevant discussion point.

  • Joe Rogan laughing about coercing women into performing oral sex
  • Joe Rogan talking racist “science” with Holocaust-denier Chuck Johnson
  • Rogan shouting at a primatologist for saying he was wrong, calling her stupid, fucking idiot and mocks her for having a vagina
  • Video of Rogan referring to black people as apes, followed by a video of him telling a biracial person about the advantage of having the brain of a white person and the body of a black person
  • An example of Joe Rogan impersonating a child with intellectual disabilities

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Making tech safe and compassionate through design, coaching and teaching. Independent consultant. Co-host of UX Podcast. Primary publication: axbom.com

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Per Axbom

Per Axbom

Making tech safe and compassionate through design, coaching and teaching. Independent consultant. Co-host of UX Podcast. Primary publication: axbom.com