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Intrigued by all the hype surrounding the U.S. launch of the Spotify music service, I ponied up a $9.99 monthly subscription fee this morning to avoid the wait for the invite-only free version and give the full-blown premium experience a try.

So far I’m impressed with the simplicity of the interface, and particularly the way it connects to my Facebook friends and also to my phone.

Spotify is offering three tiers of service at launch: the free version, currently invite-only; a $4.99/month service, which is like the free version but without ads; and the $9.99/month service, which enables mobile access, higher-quality audio and other premium features.

The big question is whether we Americans are ready to give up on the notion of “owning” our music via the traditional download model. Existing subscription services have been trying for years. Getting out ahead of the Spotify launch, Seattle’s Rhapsody this week said it had surpassed 800,000 users. Of course that’s still nowhere near the market size of Apple’s iTunes music download store.

The tight Facebook integration seems to be a key advantage for Spotify, and in some ways what we’re seeing today is what Apple’s Ping social network in iTunes could have been. It should be interesting to see how Steve Jobs & Co. respond in general, and whether Spotify is the tipping point that convinces Apple to finally add a subscription option to iTunes.

In the meantime, I’m still kicking the tires on Spotify and trying to fully understand the appeal. Feel free to share your own impressions, if you’ve gotten an invite to the free version or followed me into this strange new land of paying for your music by month.

For more on the service, the New York Times has good a behind-the-scenes look at the launch and Spotify co-founder Daniel Ek.

The Spotify desktop interface, with its social playlist feature

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