Starting on February 15, mobile Last FM listeners will have to pay $3.00 a month to continue their service. That’s less than most people spend on coffee or soda in a day so no big deal, right? Wrong. As expected, the response to the company’s blog post announcement has been mostly about people ready to jump to a competitor rather than pony up the bucks.
The refusal to pay for what they once got free is pretty common in the internet space and it’s becoming more and more of an issue as news outlets and video sites switch over to the paid subscription model. But what’s really interesting here is a line from Last FM’s post:
“On emerging mobile and home entertainment devices, it is not practical for us to deliver an ad supported radio experience, but instead, we will migrate to what we believe is the highest quality, lowest cost ad-free music service in the world.”
The subscription fee is only being required for those who use Last FM on Android, iPhone, or home receivers. X-Box users will still get it free as part of their monthly X-Box Live subscription and Microsoft Windows Mobile 7 users will also get a free pass. Why? Because according to a response to comments in the forum, “Windows is subsidizing that feature for the WinMob7 launch.”
When asked to clarify “not practical,” the same spokesperson noted:
Essentially because some of the devices that are part of this change just can’t support advertising, and streaming isn’t without cost.
Can’t support advertising? iPhone can’t support advertising? Granted, I’m not a Last FM user, so maybe I’m missing some fine detail here. Perhaps it’s not so much “can’t support” in the technical sense, but “can’t support” in the “there’s not enough return on investment way.” That, I understand. Mobile advertising may be growing but that doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk. Still, $3 per person hardly seems like it will pay the bill even if all of their current users choose to pay up, which they won’t.
Oh, and if you do pay, don’t think that buys you a completely ad free experience. According to the FAQ, Last FM has a deal with video supplier VEVO that allows them to place ads on their content and they can’t be removed without removing the content, too.
It’s hard to say if Last FM can survive as a subscription service. At a quick glance, it doesn’t seem that they have anything special enough or a loyal enough audience to make it so. But is this the trend of the future? Certainly a subscription model is easier to manage than an ad-supported model but can it be just as, or even more effective?