Another week, another piece of news concerning the streaming digital music industry. This week's player: Last.fm – and the news isn’t necessarily so good.
The company announced recently that it would put its desktop service behind a paywall in the U.S., the U.K. and Germany. This paywall already is effective in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Brazil. Additionally, Last.fm will be closing its radio service in all other countries - all these changes will take place January 15, 2013.
The company's web-based radio app, which features ads, will continue to be free, and the company's mobile app was already only available as a subscription service.
“Our desktop client remains the best way to scrobble, and all desktop features other than radio are free,” said the company in a statement. Scrobble is the word the company uses for the way its software makes music recommendations to a user's radio based on the user's music listening habits.
But when the company mentioned why the changes were put into place, it seems like all the things we've heard so many times before at this point. The alterations are “due to licensing restrictions” and “in response to various factors that affect our business differently in parts of the world.”
Though the company has thus far declined to comment further on the matter, the reasons for the changes of service seem to echo what many others in the streaming digital music industry have been saying as of late – essentially that licensing fees are much too high and threaten to kill the industry altogether.
We wrote recently about a blog published by Pandora founder Tim Westergren stating “predatory licensing fee orchestrated over ten years ago by the RIAA and their lobbyist in Washington has devastated internet radio.”
With Last.fm, requiring a subscription from any customers that don't want their music listening experience interrupted by ads, the company implements a model very similar to the one used by Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody and others in the streaming industry.
With all of the trouble over licensing fees, and more and more monthly charges being enacted for music listeners, are we headed to a world that requires payment for all streamed music? It's definitely a possibility, but it hinges on a ton of variables, laws and acts that will likely be implemented and ruled on in the next few years.
Last.fm had one major advantage over the newer subscription services in that it already had a large user base. Founded in 2002, the service was essentially a grandparent in the world of streaming music service, and it continued to have almost all its services (in the U.S., at least) free for longer than most other services. Goes to show that, at least at this time, even a large amount of users won't cover the internet licensing fees.
I want to point out that I didn't write this article to imply that I think streaming music should be free. The most important point is that, whether supported by ads or subscribers, streaming music should continue to pay the artists, songwriters and everyone involved fairly. I personally support whatever model makes that happen while reducing the 40 billion illegal downloads every year that hurts everyone in the music industry.