Last.fm re-jigs ‘pay radio’ model


31 Mar 2009

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Following last week’s announcement that listeners outside of the US, UK and Germany will soon have to pay for their streaming radio service from last.fm, the UK-based company has decided to make some changes based on user feedback.

One of the first things to change is the delayed introduction of the forthcoming €3/month subscription. In the meantime, last.fm hopes to tweak the service and add some improvements, possibly in the hope that reluctant listeners outside of the free regions will consider staying and paying.

First off, in case Paypal does not appeal to everyone, last.fm is looking at other options, specifically those that do not require a credit card.

Secondly, developers using the radio API to get last.fm functionality on third-party applications will have full access to the API, so streaming will work as long as the user logs in with their existing account.

Sadly, there was no mention of bringing the iPhone app to listeners outside of the three aforementioned regions.

However, the most important highlight of this announcement was last.fm’s explanation as to why us non-US, UK and Germany residents will have to pay for the privilege of streaming radio: licensing restrictions and advertising.

“We simply can’t be in every country where our radio service is available, selling the ads we need to support the service,” said last.fm employee, Richard Jones, on the official blog.

“The internet is global, and geographic restrictions seem unfair, but it’s a reality we are faced with every day when managing our music licensing partnerships.”

Fair enough. But some members on the last.fm forum are less than pleased with this development, and point out that the three regions already receive free, on-demand streaming from the major music labels – an improvement on what other countries can avail of.

This allows users to listen to any track from any album up to three times, before being given the option to buy from an online music store.

Irate user intraordinaire said: “I really hope I’m misunderstanding this sentence. Do you mean, we future paying users will still get less features than freeloaders from the UK US and Germany? So we don’t even get an improvement from paying?”

Last.fm staff member and developer Russ replies: “You’re not misunderstanding it – this is unfortunately correct. On-demand listening is a licensing minefield, and we don’t have the capability to support it outside UK/DE/US at the moment.”

So while some users – myself included – will probably pay the €3/month for the streaming radio service, the music on-demand development and iPhone app capabilities we had hoped for – and would possibly even pay a little more for per month – are nowhere in sight.

With licensing restrictions and advertising hampering the evolution of online radio, what is the way forward? Will hopes for pan-global streaming radio die with this development, or perhaps be brought into better focus?

By Marie Boran

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