Last.fm+CBS getting the books balanced

Last.fm announced that users outside of the US, UK, and Germany will have to pay a subscription fee. No more free.

There's no explanation in the offial announcement, but in the comments on the blog post a spokesman stepped up with this:

These are the countries in which we have the most resources to support an ad sales organization, which is how we earn money to pay artists and labels for their music. We are focused on the US, UK, and Germany as key markets, with the help of the CBS Interactive salesforce and our own sales team here in London. Our headquarters are in the UK and we’ve always had a strong presence in DE.

And so we’ve made the decision to focus on these markets for free streaming radio. We are still available worldwide and while listening is subscription, all the other rich content on the site is still free.

Last.fm is owned and operated by CBS, which also owns the major American radio sales companies and plenty of terrestrial broadcasting, and which services the (very very large) online radio presence of AOL and Yahoo!. These guys are not blue sky. They are meat and potatoes old school traditional etc.

And they're doing the right thing for everybody. It doesn't help anybody to have webcasting products run on make believe. Pretend businesses don't exist. Suspension of disbelief doesn't work for investors. To get internet music established for real, start with balancing the books.

Category: Uncategorized 13 comments »

13 Responses to “Last.fm+CBS getting the books balanced”

  1. gurdonark

    Once I realized that this change affects the last.fm radio, and not the various listening options to individual tracks I favor, then I became less concerned with it. I had hoped that an ad-based model would support world-wide users, because it’s a good thing that people all over the world use last.fm. At the same time, if it’s only the last.fm radio, which is not my main use of last.fm, then I am less concerned overall.

    Last.fm has a burgeoning netlabel-type free music movement, best exemplified by Pixieguts and her Pixies Palace members, which I want to see remain vital, world-wide and free.

  2. gurdonark

    When I first read the announcement, I thought it applied to all services for all users outside the 3 countries. When I saw it was only last.fm radio, then I was less concerned about it.

  3. piershollott.blogspot.com/

    What I find ironic is people citing “not in my backyard” as a justification for being angry that last.fm is not charging a service fee for those three countries. That’s the whole point, you’re using a service that is *not* in your backyard!

  4. Lucas Gonze

    The reactions feel immature to me. People are mad that Last.fm is either charging them what it costs to serve them or is not charging them. They’re just mad, darn it.

  5. Lucas Gonze

    I’m intrigued by the Pixieguts thing, gurdonark. Can you say more?

  6. gurdonark

    Pixieguts is an Australian vocalist who does vocals for electronic artists throughout the world.
    http://www.last.fm/music/pixieguts. She’s wracked up 19,000 plays from 4,000 listeners.

    She has a weblog, http://pixie-guts.blogspot.com. She releases at jamendo. She has a podcast.
    http://pixieguts.jamendo.net/2009/02/05/pixicast-electronic-podcast-hosted-by-voide/

    She’s organized a Ning called Pixies Palace which is a more or less a member/performer network of shared interests.
    http://pixiespalace.ning.com/, with 160 members.

    Marie, or Pixieguts, collaborates often, networks a great deal, and pushes forward a free download culture with aplomb. She’s not doing it with lots of money (I believe she types legal documents for a day job), nor immense connections in the industry (she’s in a part of Australia away from the center of things) nor the need to utilize the tawdry, the trendy or the self-aggrandizing. She just sings on music, and listens to music, and gets people together who do.

    There’s lots of room for pixieguts in this world–and a lot of what she and her best collaborators (such as Northcape and Adrian Carter) do takes place not only on netlabels, but at last.fm.

  7. gurdonark

    A second try, as my first try vaporized.

    Pixieguts is an Australian vocalist who does vocals for electronic artists throughout the world.
    http://www.last.fm/music/pixieguts. She’s wracked up 19,000 plays from 4,000 listeners.

    She has a weblog, http://pixie-guts.blogspot.com. She releases at jamendo. She has a podcast.
    http://pixieguts.jamendo.net/2009/02/05/pixicast-electronic-podcast-hosted-by-voide/

    She’s organized a Ning called Pixies Palace which is a more or less a member/performer network of shared interests.
    http://pixiespalace.ning.com/, with 160 members.

    Marie, or Pixieguts, collaborates often, networks a great deal, and pushes forward a free download culture with aplomb. She’s not doing it with lots of money (I believe she types legal documents for a day job), nor immense connections in the industry (she’s in a part of Australia away from the center of things) nor the need to utilize the tawdry, the trendy or the self-aggrandizing. She just sings on music, and listens to music, and gets people together who do.

    There’s lots of room for pixieguts in this world–and a lot of what she and her best collaborators (such as Northcape and Adrian Carter) do takes place not only on netlabels, but at last.fm.

  8. piershollott.blogspot.com/

    With a large portion of the open source movement, an interior group supports an exterior group through contributed labour, and the larger exterior group benefits from essentially free quality products. In this case, people feel they are discriminated against when this relationship is turned around, and the exterior is expected to contribute. In reality, the interior is still contributing, by participating in advertising services. It’s a tough sell.

  9. gurdonark

    It’s a tough situation all around. I think that the issue is how to make music available on a widespread basis in a way that both the consumers and the provider benefit. Last’s decision to
    discourage all but those with 36 euros a year of determination is not “evil”, desspite as claimed in the weblog comments to last’s announcement, nor is there any “right” to receive the last.fm
    service.

    I must admit, though, that I had high hopes for last.fm as an industry effort that was nonetheless savvy. My hopes have diminished that this was a reasonable middle-ground way forward.

    I still am puzzled, I suppose, by just what will continue to be free. The last.fm weblog recites “millions of samples”. Is that intended to be the 30 second previews? I find the previews of no value. The “thousands of free downloads” must be the various CC and otherwise free downloads on tap.

    We’ll see what will happen with last.fm.

  10. Lucas Gonze

    I wonder if interior and exterior will get flipped around, which would happen if the subscription market grew and the ad market died.

  11. piershollott.blogspot.com/

    I think the argument that the radio service should be free for all because it is supported by a social community is particularly difficult to work with. If you compare with community based services that you do subsidize, it makes less sense. You see the sort of argument frequently too that you pay for your ISP, everything else should be free… because I pay for a bundle of television channels, not individual channels. And even this becomes outdated when you bit torrent seasons of a program, or watch on satellite, which inevitably shows you advertising for services in a different time zone…

    A true open-source model would truly place the value in the community. This is the difference between twitter and identi.ca, I suppose – services start to become regional again when they become cloneable. last.fm could franchise.

  12. gurdonark

    I think you make good points, Piers. When one imagines social communities that support a service, then economic contribution by someone–whether viewed as internal or external–is always part of the equation.

    I also don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater by suggesting that “internet radio must be free”, as “free” in this context is ambiguous.
    When “free” means “ad-supported”, then it’s not “free” except from an end-user vantage point.
    Nobody imagine that a TV series must be broadcast indefinitely even if it fails to generate the advertising revenue to pay its expenses and make a profit. When last.fm advises that non-big-3 advertising will not generate sufficient revenue to support the station outside the “big 3″, then the fact that loyal listeners talked up the site, uploaded youtubes and photos, and allowed the scrobbler to work should not require last.fm to operate at a loss on this business.

    At the same time, I still wish that last.fm could have made advertiser-supported songs the way to go world-wide. Last.fm had the opportunity to become a real world-wide “go to” site. It’s made the decision to forego that chance.

    I’m a bit bemused that so many folks showed up at the last weblog to say “we’re leaving!” when it is fairly obvious that last.fm not only will not be offended, but wants this to happen.

    The real “other shoe” will be the institution of premium service for the big 3 residents. Will this be a sale-able concept? I don’t know.

    All of this illustrates to me that those of us who favor CC music must find new outlets and new ways to get the word out about CC music and the sites on which is found. Last’s great advantage for CC was a good place to surf to find netlabel work in one place without having to download.
    This advantage may or may not be lost–but it’s clear that “free music” as in “free beer” should find new outlets and new demonstrations.

    I’m back, Lucas, to your idea of a song page, although an artist weblog with album pages is closer to what I have in mind. Then the question is not how to present the music (that is an important issue but a different issue). The question is what kind of resource will make available the information about the music in a
    winning way.

    I’m guessing it’s a wiki. A big searchable CC wiki. Moderated for the first 500 artists or so, and then free libre, wiki style after that.

    Phlow had done good work on this. Other weblogs such as disquiet and blocsonic and so forth have done great things.

    I used to think that curation was the great need. last.fm’s virtue is that it taught me that curation is not the issue–it’s pages which attractively present facts and links to music.
    That’s the key thing we need to learn from last, but implement in a free context.

  13. piershollott.blogspot.com/

    In the strictest sense, the interior is the people making the music. Any technology (cc, for instance) that facilitates a larger number of people entering into this interior is a good thing. People pay a subscription to *write* a weblog, not to *read*, but when the bowl goes round at a poetry reading, it’s in the audience. Why is that?

    I absolutely agree that a song page has good value, especially when a collective forms around the page, like a wiki, with responsibilities for not just the music, but graphic design, css, content etc.

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