Does Spotify actually have 30,000 U.S. users, as was reported by TechCrunch on Thursday?

Spotify told TechCrunch it doesn't have 30,000 users in the United States and said its report was "completely factually incorrect." But that number may not be totally unreasonable. It all depends on what you consider to be a "U.S. user," something TechCrunch did not define in its controversial post.

The first key to thinking about the possibility of 30,000 Spotify users in the United States is the acknowledgment that all users in the country need not be U.S. residents.

Expatriates and tourists who have created Spotify accounts in their home countries and continue to use them while in the United States. Spotify spokesperson Jim Butcher told Billboard via e-mail that paying Spotify customers can take their subscriptions wherever they go in the world.

"One of the advantages of Spotify Premium is that you have unlimited travel access to the service," Butcher wrote.

Premium users must pay with a credit card or PayPal account that is based in their home country. But as long as they keep paying while they're out of the country, explained Butcher, their Spotify accounts will still work.

"So if you continue to subscribe to Spotify Premium using your U.K. credit card/account, you can continue to use Spotify wherever in the world you wish," he wrote.

Users of the free version can also use Spotify while in the United States -- but not for long. According to Butcher, a person can use a free, ad-supported Spotify account anywhere outside of their home country for 14 days.

"So, yes," wrote Butcher, "European tourists can use Spotify in the U.S."

U.S. residents can be legal yet short-lived Spotify users, too. People who create a Spotify account while visiting one of the six European markets where Spotify is available (United Kingdom, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland and Norway) can bring it home with them. One person Billboard spoke with signed up for an account while in Europe and was able to use Spotify for 14 days after returning home.

Between all these students, tourists, expatriates, and returning U.S. residents, it's not a stretch of the imagination to think there are thousands of people using Spotify in the U.S. at any one time and many more over the course of a year.

Consider the number of U.K. citizens who enter the United States every year. According to the Department of Homeland Security, 4.5 million U.K. citizens were admitted as non-resident non-immigrants (tourist visas) in 2009. About 194,000 short-term resident non-immigrant U.K. citizens were admitted. Another 15,000 U.K. citizens came in on H1B and L1 work visas. So, that's a bit over 4.7 million U.K. citizens visiting the United States in 2009. What are the odds that just 10,000 of them -- just 0.0002% -- have used Spotify while visiting? Remember, the U.K. is just one of the six markets in which Spotify is available.

Nearly as many North Americans visit the United Kingdom. In the 12 months ending March 31, 2010, North Americans made 3.5 million visits to the U.K., according to the Office for National Statistics. Surely some of them must have signed up for Spotify and installed the application on their laptops before returning home.

The most obvious and easily quantified group of U.S.-based users is people using the service legally. These include members of the media (such as myself) and music partners who were given test accounts. Butcher tells Billboard these make up a "relatively small number."

And what about people in the United States who illegally get a Spotify account? The Internet is full of tutorials and tips on how to work around Spotify's territorial restrictions. For example, a person in the United States could use a variety of tools to get a U.K. IP address to fool Spotify into thinking an account request has come from within a particular country. Some people have used a proxy server, a server that acts as an intermediary to other servers, in order to get a Spotify account from within the United States.

Since the true location of a pirated account is withheld, it's difficult to guess how many people have signed up with Spotify using proxy servers. The audience at this year's SXSW may offer a clue. During the keynote with Spotify's Daniel Ek, interviewer Eliot Van Buskirk asked the audience if they had used Spotify. Hundreds raised their hands. Later during the Q&A, one person admitted he was using it illegally. Maybe the rest were all using legitimate test accounts or were paying subscribers visiting from Europe, but I got the feeling most were Americans who were cheating the system.

Regardless of how you define a U.S. Spotify user, and whether or not 30,000 U.S. residents are actually using Spotify on any given day, one thing is certain: Americans can't wait for Spotify to arrive to their country.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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