The days of listening to interactive radio stations for free on Last.fm are numbered: eight, to be precise. On February 15, the Last.fm mobile app will cease playing interactive radio stations in the United States, United Kingdom and Germany unless the user pays for a subscription.
Listening on the desktop or laptop will remain free within those regions, according to Last.fm’s announcement — as will listening on Windows Phone 7 and Microsoft Xbox Live. The monthly fee (currently $3) will apply to all other devices capable of running the Last.fm app: iPhone, Android, Logitech/Squeezebox, Sonos, Revo, and Apple TV (through AirPlay), and removes advertisements from the service.
Last.fm vice president of product Matthew Hawn wrote that by doing this, Last.fm was joining other players in the market. Spotify, for example, similarly charges users for mobile access to a service that’s free on their computers.
However, radio services such as Last.fm (as opposed to on-demand services like Spotify and Rhapsody) are usually free, so the soon-to-be- paid-only mobile version of Last.fm will have plenty of competition. Pandora and Slacker charge nothing for interactive radio, for instance; instead, they only charge for advanced features, as well as ad-free playback. So really, Last.fm, purchased by radio giant CBS in 2007, stands more or less alone in offering mobile radio only for a monthly fee.
On Monday, the Last.fm iPhone app still plays interactive artist stations:
And the service will still be free when accessed via web browser in the U.S., U.K. and Germany, (i.e. where Last.fm has ad sales teams) — but only if that web browser is running on a computer. If you try to access the web-based version of Last.fm on your phone, even now, the radio stations won’t play, on either the mobile or regular version of the site. This paywall will be real:
So just like that, there will be no more Last.fm music streaming of any kind to phones. At times like this, it’s useful to remember that smartphones don’t need DRM because they are DRM.
Last.fm is placing a bold bet here, that people will pay for the mobile and consumer electronics versions of its free web app even when Pandora and Slacker offer so much for free.
On the plus side, where CBS’s Last.fm is concerned, at least it won’t have to worry about filling all of that air with enough ads to pay the pipers. Meanwhile, strong app sales ($6.8 billion, rising to $25 billion by 2015 according to MarketsandMarkets) indicate that music fans could be willing to pay for streaming radio in mobile phones, cars and home electronics, even if it’s free on the web.