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Is Spotify punishing artists who cozy up to Apple Music?

When singers and bands give exclusives to subscription-music rivals like Apple and Tidal, Spotify is depressing those musicians in search results, a report says. Spotify says that's not true.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
Expertise Streaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation online Credentials
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Joan E. Solsman

Apple Music and Tidal have leaned on exclusives as the battle to catch up to Spotify's lead in subscribers.

Taylor Martin/CNET

The rivalry between the subscription music giants may be turning bitter.

Spotify has been penalizing some artists who provide music exclusively to its main competitor, Apple Music, according to a Bloomberg report. Citing unnamed people familiar with the practices, the report said Spotify search results bury tunes by artists who give their material to Apple Music first. The company also warned acts it will exclude Apple-exclusive music from featured Spotify playlists once it's available to stream there, the report said.

A spokeswoman for Spotify said statements about burying search results are "unequivocally false." She didn't comment on playlist strategy.

High-profile exclusives have emerged as the weapon of choice for smaller streaming-music services in their battle to catch up with Spotify's lead in subscribers. Unlike Apple Music, Spotify has a free ad-supported tier, which has been a key stepping stone to 39 million paying members. At 15 million users as of June, Apple Music has turned to exclusive material like Frank Ocean's hit "Blonde" in the last week to combat Spotify's advantage on price. Smaller competitor Tidal, owned by rapper Jay Z and a host of other big-name artists, made exclusives its chief selling point.