Social music service Turntable.fm has debuted its first attempt at monetization. Called Turntable Gold, it gives subscribers a premium level of service with features not available to other users.
Turntable Gold is unique in that music fans are charged for virtual goods rather than access to music. Gold members get to insert “chat stickers,” such as icons like a pink heart, and animated GIFs into chat. Premium avatars have animation when the Gold member is DJ’ing. Paying members also get exclusive laptop stickers.
The virtual goods retail model has worked in areas outside of music, notably in online videogames with brands like “World of Warcraft.” Launched in May 2011, Turntable.fm raised a $7 million round that allowed it to follow the common strategy of first acquiring users and refining its product. Union Square Ventures led the round. Other investors include Jimmy Iovine, Troy Carter, Guy Oseary, Lyor Cohen, Jimmy Fallon, Ashton Kutcher, former Myspace Music CEO Courtney Holt and Path CEO Dave Morin.
The service quickly won over fans with its unique take on social music: Listeners enter virtual rooms in which DJs take turns selecting songs for an online audience that’s depicted by avatars. The listeners then vote for a song—thumbs up or thumbs down—and the DJs receive points based on their ability to please the crowd.
When it first launched, praise was universal, and Billboard named Turntable.fm the top music startup of 2011. But the momentum didn’t last and the service was being called a fad before 2011 even finished.
Google search activity in the United States shows interest in Turntable.fm was 20 times greater in July 2011 than in June 2013. But the service has persisted. Now the industry will wait and see how this monetization plan works with listeners.