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Last.fm hit with restrictions, adds paywall on desktop client in U.S., U.K., and Germany

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Last.fm is going to have to change its “Listen to free music with Internet radio, and the largest music catalogue online,” one-liner pretty soon. The music streaming service will have to scrub “free” starting January 15 for its desktop client, which will require users to pay for its radio feature. The CBS acquired music streaming service’s radio streaming service on its desktop client, will no longer be available for non-subscribers in the U.S., U.K., and Germany

While users from these three Western countries will be affected by this new paywall, it only applies to the desktop client’s radio access. You can still get your share of free music even after January 15 by listening to streaming music on Last.fm’s online radio, available via its in-browser app. And of course, all features on the desktop client, excluding streaming radio, will remain free to use.

As for Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand, these countries have already been required to pay for a subscribscription to Last.fm since the service was introduced to these demographics.

But outside of the territories mentioned above (to recap, the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand), there are some drastic changes taking place. Alleging “licensing restrictions,” Last.fm announced that radio streaming, which users were required to subscribe to in these other countries, will be completely removed also beginning on January 15. Last.fm’s signature feature, Scrobbling, will continue to be free to use everywhere. And the company assures users that “your listening data, charts, and recommendations will not be affected by this change.” Current subscribers are left with two options: Unsubscribe, or continue paying for the service with the promise of new features, “including an ad-free browsing experience site-wide, access to demos on Last.fm Playground, and other features we’re working hard to add,” to compensate for the lack of a radio service.

With these changes in place, Last.fm offers some alternative ways for its users to extract value from its services:

  • Last.fm Discover provides music from thousands of independent artists for you to explore.
  • Last.fm for Spotify lets you explore music within Spotify using your Last.fm recommendations, and improves the more you listen.
  • Services such as The Hype Machine, Deezer and Rdio offer on-demand streaming that scrobbles in many parts of the world. See what’s available in your country.

Even music industry titans in the streaming sector aren’t infallible to the economics of licensing fees. Last.fm chalks up these changes to “various factors that affect our business differently in parts of the world.” But even competing streaming services that rely on advertising like Pandora are struggling to keep up. Skyrocketing royalty rates, and as The Wall Street Journal reported, advertisers that invest in Web and desktops ads, but abstain from mobile ads are contributing to music streaming’s hardships. For now the industry can hinges on the hope that the Internet Radio Fairness Act passes, which would mean companies like Spotify, Pandora, and Last.fm would only have to pay royalties on par with cable and satellite radio. It’s the difference between spending 55 percent of their revenue on royalties compared to the 7-16 percent that cable and satellite companies spend.

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