Spotify Bet Big on Joe Rogan. It Got More Than It Counted On.


Management of the crisis in the United States may have been further complicated because Spotify’s headquarters is nearly 4,000 miles away, in Sweden, where Mr. Ek, a publicity-shy executive who grew up in a suburb of Stockholm, and many of the company’s engineers and longest-tenured employees are based.

Free expression is a deeply held belief in Sweden. Many employees there — and in the United States — were angry when Spotify removed music by R. Kelly and XXXTentacion from playlists in 2018 for content or conduct deemed offensive, a decision the company quickly reversed.

Mr. Ek has made it clear that he is wary of taking on the role of censor. “We’re not in the business of dictating the discourse that these creators want to have on their shows,” he told employees earlier this month in a speech first reported by The Verge, adding that “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.”

And as a business matter, censoring Mr. Rogan could alienate his legion of fans and set a slippery precedent with other podcasters, according to Mark Mulligan, an industry analyst with Midia Research.

“That could put at risk their future podcast strategy,” Mr. Mulligan said.

In a recent memo to employees, Mr. Ek wrote that “canceling voices is a slippery slope” but acknowledged that a number of episodes of Mr. Rogan’s show had been removed from the platform. He wrote that Mr. Rogan had decided to remove them after meetings with Spotify executives and “his own reflections.”

Katherine Rosman and Ben Sisario reported from New York, Mike Isaac reported from Oakland, Calif., and Adam Satariano reported from London. Additional reporting was contributed by Nicole Sperling in Los Angeles and Marc Tracy and Jessica Cheung in New York.



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