Slacker Relaunches Simpler Service to Appeal to More People

Above: Slacker chief executive Jim Cady

Slacker Inc., which counts more than half-a-million paying subscribers, on Wednesday announced an overhaul of the digital music service that is designed to appeal to mainstream users as opposed to the music aficionados.

The new Slacker has more visual elements and adds more personalized recommendations than the prior version in order to appear friendlier to new users who may not know exactly what they want to listen to or how to navigate its prodigious catalog of music, news, comedy and sports programming, Slacker chief executive Jim Cady.

“We felt it was time to move from early adopters to mainstream listeners,” Cady said.

Slacker launched its music streaming service five years ago primarily as a free Internet radio service organized around genres programmed by music experts. Over the years, it added a $3.99-a-month ad-free subscription radio tier as well as a $9.99-a-month on-demand music service similar to Rhapsody or Spotify.

But the San Diego music service struggled with the same problem all other music services have run into -- how to get enough people to pay monthly fees in order to create a profitable business. Of the four million listeners who tune into Slacker every month, about 12.5% pay for the service. Of Spotify’s 20 million users, five million, or 25%, spring for a premium version of the service.

Cady would not say whether Slacker is profitable, but hinted that his company was not profusely bleeding cash. The privately held company has also been doubling its revenue and subscribers each year for the past two years, Cady noted. Still, its four million listeners are a fraction of the 65.6 million listeners currently dialing into Pandora’s Internet radio service each month.

In order to significantly grow, Slacker needs more paying users. The redesign of the service is aimed at doing just that, by appealing to a broader, more casual demographic.

Slacker is also expanding its revenue streams, Cady said, adding a sponsorship model to its site. As an example, Slacker this Thursday and Friday will open up its premium service to all users for free, with the costs subsidized by a sponsorship from Cars.com. Cady said there will be other opportunities to pair sponsors with specific artists on Slacker.