Today Last.fm’s Richard Jones announced on the company’s blog that the radio stations available on Last.fm are about to go for-money-only in countries other than the USA, the UK and Germany. This means, that there is no longer a distinctions between free and for-pay stations for people outside of these 3 countries anymore. Previously you could for example listen to a random playlist generated from your recommendations for free, while you had to pay for a playlist generated from your “loved” songs.
I, personally, don’t really mind this change. For the past years I’ve found most of the tracks I eventually bought through Last.fm and 3€ per month isn’t really that much for such a great service. What annoys me quite a bit, though, is that some customers are not affected. In a comment Matthew Ogle wrote, that Last.fm wants to “focus” on these three countries, which is in my opinion a really weak explanation for an international web services whose main attraction was and still is its internationality to treat customers differently based on their geo-location. I guess this could even be a first. It just smells so much like a typical content-industry move, like the one that prevents me to get J-Pop (or even some Italian bands) in the Austrian iTunes Store.
If Last.fm had moved to a paid-only streaming service for all users, the uproar in the community would probably have happened too, but this way at least all customers would be treated in the same way. I totally see that such a service is costly and should actually be worth money to most people, but I don’t really like the way this transition to a paid service (which Last.fm is now definitely headed to) was handled.
In another comment, gurdonark made a great suggestion that Last.fm should perhaps offer a baseline service that includes streaming of Creative Commons tracks and tracks by netlabels. This way the site could still be used as a basic advertisement and recommendation platform for these types of music and show some strong support for independent artists. Not that this would really help with the bandwidth-costs, though.
On the other hand, many people seem to have misunderstood the announcements. From what I read there, the basic service (like artist information, recommendations, free tracks, scrobbling, etc.) will stay free. The only service affected by this, is the streaming service. And this was repeated by basically all staff members commenting in this announcement.
It’s just sad because I actually wanted to recommend Last.fm to my mom so that she might find some other artist similar to Paolo Conte, but with only 30 free tracks before you have to get a subscription for using the streaming-service, it will be rather complicated since she doesn’t normally listen to music on her Mac :-/
One a side-note: I’m definitely not running around screaming that everything should be free (not that I’d mind, though) and I kind of think it’s amusing to see other people act this way. I just bought a 3-month-subscription for Last.fm since I simply don’t want to live without the recommendation service and like listening to my “loved tracks”.