March 12, 2012 at 3:36 pm

SpotON Radio Talks Free Trials, Kids, and the Trap of the Walkman (Part 2)

spoton radio peter blomAUSTIN, TEXAS — This is the second part of our exclusive SXSW interview with Peter Blom, co-founder of the popular SpotON Radio app for iOS, which turns Spotify into an artist-based radio service.

See the first part here.

Eliot Van Buskirk, Do you think it hurts you that because Spotify’s mobile app lacks a free trial, people have to subscribe for $10/month before they can try SpotON Radio?

Peter Blom, SpotON Radio: Do you think it hurts us? (laughs)

Blom: We have a lot of people looking at the app, but we have this huge dam wall making it impossible for them to try it. There’s a small hole in it that sprinkles out water, which are the users that can get through. I mean, that sucks. So definitely: If we could get people to try it out for free and maybe even using a limited version for free — that’s a definite next step somewhere out there. Then you could get affiliate fees if someone subscribes to Spotify because they want to use SpotON Radio.

Blom: Exactly. And I guess Apple might start doing web-based versions of apps so people can test them out online. That would help.

Blom: Yes, also trying to find other pricing models. I saw today that you have prepaid Visa cards here [in America] — that’s awesome. Looking at the mobile operators, I guess it’s the same thing. In Sweden, when they started doing prepaid mobile plans, they could reach a whole new audience of younger people who didn’t have credit cards, and couldn’t commit to a subscription. Spotify [on the mobile side] is only subscription-based, which is a problem if you can’t commit to a subscription. I’d say a setup where you can pre-pay for X amount of hours of music that you could buy inside the app would be awesome. That’s a very interesting concept. My theory with iTunes is that they sell most of their music in late December and January, and I think it’s because parents buy their kid an iPhone and say, ‘I want to teach you to be a morally upstanding person, so I’m going to give you a $30 gift certificate to iTunes.’ I think that’s the dirty secret of iTunes: Nobody actually buys music with their own money. It’s all these gift cards.

Blom: It’s the dirty secret of the [iTunes] app store too, looking at the uptick in kids’ apps. It’s huge. It’s easy to spend money on digital content if it’s not your money, I guess is the thing.

Blom: There are also a lot of kids who listen to Spotify through their parents’ accounts as well. [SpotON Radio co-founder] Benjamin [Glaser] is a father of two, and looking at his recommendations (laughs). He claims it’s his kids. I have the same problem. I have a ten-month-old, and I’m making her listen to everything that I listened to when I was a kid, because that’s what parents do. ‘ I will recreate my childhood!’ But it will start messing with my recommendations. The same way they have private Facebook listening in Spotify, they should maybe have some type of ‘family listening’ setting. Rdio actually does have a type of family plan.

Blom: Yeah, I think that’s something that needs to be there as well. So when exactly is the new version of the SpotON Radio app coming out [new features listed at the bottom of this page]? Are you waiting until the beginning of SXSW Music?

Blom: Actually, we were hoping to launch it [on Saturday] but it got stuck in the Apple process for some reason. So it’s in review — hopefully Monday.

[Note: At 2:30pm CT on Monday, it had yet to launch.] Anything else to add?

Blom: We have an app out, which is nice, but what I see as more interesting is why we created the app and what we want to do with it. The way we see it is, if you look at the music players that are out there, they’re still pretty much digital versions of the Walkman. You have a Play button, a Next button, and playlists which are pretty much like albums or changing the cassette in a Walkman. The Walkman was a mechanical device, and now we have a device which is a billion times more powerful and efficient, which has so much information about you and the environment and everything, and that isn’t leveraged at all in the music players.

What you have is a social layer glued on top of it which is based on recommendations and your friends, which I think is a very, very weak offer when it comes to music and video. I remember last year here at South By, I listened to the product manager of YouTube talking about their difficulties in recommending videos, and how there’s pretty much no overlap between being a friend of someone and having the same taste in videos. I would say it’s pretty much the same for music. I’m friends with Kristopher, but we have very few songs that we like in common. And the same with Benjamin. Having that as a basis [for music recommendation] is the very least you can do with social — and that’s what everyone is coding. We want to integrate it much more, and think much smarter about that. I can’t say too much about it - That was going to be my next question — “So what is the answer?”

Blom: I would love to talk about that, and maybe we should, I’m not sure. Right now we’re sort of restrictive about it, but there’s a lot of stuff we want to do around that. Can you at least say whether it would happen within SpotON, or is this a different product?

Blom: This is within SpotON, definitely.