My favorite music site, last.fm has done away with the 30-second preview and now serves up full-length streams of all of their tracks, all for free. In a blog post, last.fm says that they’ll limit each track to three plays before a notice pops up promoting a new, Unlimited Listening Subscription. The artists will be paid from a royalty pot that is portioned out based on the number of times their tracks are played. Last.fm is also opening up their platform to invite independent artists to upload their music directly into the mix and also get paid based on popularity.
Royalties are paid from earnings on their subscription service as well as advertising. What is unclear is how royalties get divided up behind the scenes. CBS owns last.fm and they say that they’ve cut deals with “Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, Warner, EMI and over 150,000 independent labels and artists.” The big question is if the subscription and advertising revenues will provide enough of a revenue pot to sustain the artists, advertisers, and last.fm. Back when I worked at Factiva, the calculations for how content providers were paid was complex and tended to favor the larger brand names that could negotiate from a position of strength. I suspect that this is the case, with the large studios gaining a larger percentage cut for each of their tracks. Yet I hold out hope that eventually last.fm’s distribution and the pressures bearing down on the studios eventually favors a more equitable arrangement that distributes earnings based more on talent and popularity and less on the big studio lawyers.
More details from a press conference on this news from paidcontent.org.
Fred Wilson, always a good read on the issues and challenges for the music business, posts a good perspective on this development and suggests opening up the catalog to allow blogs and social networks to embed tracks into their pages for their readers. I was just thinking today, it would be cool to embed a player on your MyBlogLog profile page which played your favorite last.fm track of the week. Today I can point to a page, for even broader distribution, the next step is to embed.