June 21, 2023

Today's Topics

Good morning, today is the summer solstice for all of our Northern Hemisphere readers! Make the most of every minute of sunlight... especially if you live in Anchorage, Alaska, where the sun will set at 11:43pm tonight. Today we’re exploring:

  • Supremium: Spotify is launching a new, more expensive tier.
  • Donation drop: Charitable giving fell sharply last year.
  • Intertwined: Why US-China relations are so complicated.

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Amped up

Spotify is reportedly gearing up to introduce a new, more expensive, subscription tier internally dubbed "Supremium", according to recent reports from Bloomberg.

The new offering is expected to include a HiFi feature — which had been delayed following Apple Music and Amazon Music's decision to offer it for free as part of their standard plans — and premium subscribers may also get access to some audiobooks in future as well.

Spotify execs will be hoping that the new features convince more of their free users to convert to paying subscribers. Indeed, while just ~40% of Spotify's user base opts for the paid option, it's that segment that sustains the company, accounting for a staggering 97% of the company’s cumulative gross profit since 2017. The ad-supported option, where users endure 15-30 second advertisements every few songs, hardly contributes to the company’s bottom line, covering its basic costs while acting more like a marketing funnel for the premium service.

Podcasting pivot

The ad-supported part of Spotify’s business also includes its podcast efforts — which have been scaled back dramatically, with 200 employees from its podcast division being laid off just 2 weeks ago. The company’s strategy around “Spotify Originals” has also shifted; a new show with Trevor Noah will no longer be exclusive to Spotify and the company has also parted ways with Prince Harry and Meghan, following their lucrative podcast deal in 2020, which was valued at $20m.

Related chart: have we hit peak podcast?

Donation drop

America is feeling less charitable, or perhaps just less able to act on their charitable intentions.

That's the takeaway from the latest data from Giving USA, which revealed the largest drop in charitable giving for at least 40 years — as total donations fell by $59bn last year (adjusted for inflation). Indeed, if you don't adjust for inflation this is only the 4th time since the early 1980s that charitable giving hasn't grown year-on-year.

America still donated some $499bn last year, the vast majority (64%) of which — some $319bn — came from individual donors. That works out to $1,200 of giving per American adult. High inflation and a rising cost of living, along with a drop in the value of assets such as stocks, likely hindered America's ability to give, with the net worth of many US households dropping last year. A similar fall was seen in 2008 and 2009, when households pulled back on giving significantly.

Overall, the biggest beneficiaries of American generosity were religious charities, which accounted for $144bn, double the $72bn given to human services.

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Blinken you’ll miss it

The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, traveled to China this week in an effort to cool the simmering geopolitical tensions between the two nations. The summit comes after Blinken skipped his trip earlier this year — canceled due to the infamous spy-balloon fiasco back in February, a flashpoint which strained US-China tensions further.

While the particulars are unknown, Blinken’s 35-minute meeting with Xi Jinping was the pinnacle of the trip. The major sticking points — trade, access to advanced technologies, Taiwan, the war in Ukraine, and more — obviously remain, but the meeting was initially hailed as a positive on both sides.

Stuck on you

China’s rise to global superpower status has been deeply intertwined with the US — no other pair of countries on Earth trade as much as the US and China. Just last year, the US imported a staggering $536 billion worth of goods from China — an increase of 6% from the previous year — resulting in a trade deficit of $382 billion in goods, according to data from the US Census Bureau.

The ongoing trade war, which is now 5 or 6 years old depending on how you define its starting point, has spread — with the recent focus on the high-tech microchip industry, rather than the heavy manufacturing focus of Donald Trump’s administration.

Some of the goodwill built up during the talks may have already evaporated. Yesterday, China reacted furiously to President Biden labeling Xi Jinping a "dictator" at a fundraiser in California on Tuesday.

More Data

• Inflation in the UK seems stuck, with prices rising 8.7% in the last year, bucking the trend seen in the US of softer price rises.

Michael Jordan’s sneakers that he wore during his “Flu Game” in the 1997 NBA Finals just sold for $1.38 million at auction.

Florida is suffering through a dismal citrus season, sending prices for orange juice up 17.5% since the start of 2022, to $10 a gallon.


• Just want some charts to summarize what is happening in AI? Check these out.

• The world has been captivated by the submersible vessel that went missing near the wreck of the Titanic (which sits at 13,000 ft below sea level) — informative video on just how deep the ocean is.

Off the charts: In a rare bit of climate good news, what data were we plotting below, which has dramatically improved since international efforts got serious in the late 1980s? [Answer below].

Answer here.

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