Business Matters: Rdio Unveils Free Listening Option
Business Matters: Rdio Unveils Free Listening Option

Rdio Unveils Free Listening Option
-- The freemium business model took another step forward Thursday when subscription service Rdio officially unveiled its free, advertising-free level of service. Rdio also offers web-only access ($4.99 per month) and web-and-mobile access ($9.99 per month) as well as family rates with bulk discounts.

"We're proud to be the only service in the US to offer everyone the opportunity to listen to millions of songs for free, without the distraction of a single ad," said CEO Drew Larner in a statement. The company had first announced its plans to launch the free service last month.

Free users are limited in the amount of listening, but Rdio does it with a twist. A horizontal bar at the top of the page acts as a meter that tells how much free listening is left in the user's account. The gauge has no markings, however, so the time between full and empty is not immediately discernable.

Here's how a company publicist explained it: "The amount of free a person will get is dynamic and will be based on their own personal use and displayed in a meter in the corner of their profile … When a user runs out one month, they can come back the next month for more free or they don't have to wait and can sign up for an unlimited account."

Free users get a pretty good deal. They can use Rdio through their web browser or Rdio's native desktop apps for Mac and Windows. And they get all Rdio features such as following friend' activities, sharing with Facebook and Twitter sharing, listening to artist and label radio stations, creating playlists and building custom and collaborative playlists.

There are already a handful of other freemium servicers in the U.S. Spotify is the most notable - it had both free and premium tiers when it launched in July. Mog announced its free tier last month. And Slacker, best known for its free and premium Internet radio services, also has a paid, on-demand service that debuted in early January.

But the question about the financial viability of the freemium model is far from answered. Outgoing Warner Music Group head of digital, Michael Nash, told CNET last month that "the industry has finally figured out free" in the sense that free is used to incentivize paid listenership. It may be too early to tell - success is still far in the distance.

Today's young subscription services may not have a choice, however. They need consumers to use their products and free gets people through the door, so to speak. And at this point in record labels' fight against piracy, limiting the amount of free listening services can offer clashes with the larger goal of moving people to legal services.

Rhapsody + Napster = ?

-- What will come from Rhapsody's pending acquisition of competing subscription service Napster? In an online interview with TechCrunch TV, Rhapsody president Jon Irwin explained the company's acquisition will allow it to integrate certain Napster platform solutions such as connected TVs and consumer electronics. "The result is going to be a very powerful and best-of-breed, on-demand subscription music delivery platform.

He declined to give the number of subscribers that will migrate over from Napster (keep in mind Rhapsody will lose some subscribers in the process). Instead he reiterated Rhapsody's latest subscriber figure of 800,000 and said the company will give an update after the integration. ( TechCrunch TV)

Rep. Hank Johnson Joins Intellectual-Property Subcommittee
-- Representative Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) has joined the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet, notes a post at the RIAA's blog. "The Judiciary IP subcommittee is lucky to have him," writes Michele Ballantyne, Senior Vice President, Public Policy and Industry Relations. "We know him to be a steady, thoughtful and fair legislator."

Johnson wasted no time endearing himself to the creative community. "I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to help foster innovation and job creation through fair and equitable copyright and intellectual property law," he said in a statement. "As a longstanding consumer advocate, I will also be focused on whether mergers will lead to increased choices and lower prices for consumers." ( Rep. Hank Johnson's web site, via the RIAA blog)