September 29, 2011 at 9:00 am

Shazam Stops Charging for Unlimited Song IDs on iOS

shazam unlimited freeShazam, whose magical ability to identify most songs that are playing over the speakers around you made it one of the most popular, lucrative apps on about any smartphone you can think of, removed a limit on the number of songs you can identify with it on iOS devices on Thursday. Previously, Shazam had limited users of its free iPhone app to five song identifications per month.

This might seem like minor news, but Shazam’s numbers make it big. Users of the apps identify over one billion songs each year, and have purchased over $100 million-worth of digital music after identifying songs through its apps, according to the company. This removal of tagging limits in the free version signifies a major shift, given that the unlimited versions typically cost $5 or more.

“Now, with no limits, people can Shazam a song they already know to conveniently purchase it, see the lyrics, watch the official music video, share on Facebook, Twitter or email, get recommendations, access tour information and purchase concert tickets instantly,” said Shazam CEO Andrew Fisher in a statement. “All this is possible due to the increasing maturity of mobile advertising and the strength of Apple’s iOS platform and ecosystem. Because of these essential improvements, we can make this fundamental change to unlimited usage in our free app.”

The free, unlimited-tagging Shazam apps for both iOS and Android will be supported by advertising and sponsorships. Capital One Financial Corporation is the first sponsor, on a global level. Both the Android and iOS versions will be free and unlimited on a permanent basis, according to what a company spokesman told Evolver.fm.

As Fisher mentions, mobile advertising’s increasing maturity surely played a part in its decision to remove the tagging limits in its uber-popular free version, but another factor may have intervened as well: the availability of a free, open-source alternative to Shazam, Echoprint, with which any independent developer can now build apps that identify songs using a smartphone’s microphone. (Disclosure: Echoprint, now free and open-source, used to be a product from The Echo Nest, which publishes Evolver.fm.)

Those who choose to pay for Shazam Encore on the iPhone ($6) or Android ($4.67) enjoy two advantages over users of the free version: the removal of ads and the ability to view the lyrics for identified songs. However, given that the free, ad-supported version now includes unlimited tagging, we anticipate that fewer users will upgrade.

To promote the new version, Shazam is offering $25,000 and the chance to meet American Idol‘s Kelly Clarkson to a randomly selected user in return for connecting the app to their Facebook accounts so that identified songs show up there, and tagging a song. Users can enter once per day.

Shazam first amazed me many years ago, when the company demonstrated its technology to me following, I think, this 2004 column. Now that it has removed tagging limits on the two most popular mobile app platforms, we expect it to grow even more popular, even among users who might pay not to meet Kelly Clarkson.