services, otherwise known as music subscription services, appear to
be the “next big thing” in consumer audio consumption. But
sorting out the players isn’t easy, especially once you get past
well-known names like Pandora and Spotify.
Here’s a mini
roadmap. We’ve omitted Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio, with which RW
readers are more familiar, and other services that could easily be
included, like SiriusXM’s online service.
Our thanks to Tim
Davis, director of digital at Jacobs Media, for his advice and
guidance in crafting this list.
APPLE iTUNES RADIO
Unveiled on June 10,
Apple’s much-anticipated iTunes Radio service takes a page from
Pandora’s playbook with its provision of free content, and
commercials to pay the bills.
The service is going
to “personalize” listeners’ music, based on what they have
already purchased from iTunes, and what they have been listening to.
Listening to where,
exactly? Pay $25 to subscribe to iTunes Match, and the service,
according to iTunes, will check “which songs of yours are available
in the iTunes Store, and then any match will be automatically added
to iCloud for you to pull up and listen to anytime.” Which means
you cut back on storage space.
come with a commercial-free version of iTunes Radio.
Will Apple iTunes
Radio fly? Well, the sheer power of the Apple brand is enough to give
everyone else in the online music business the willies. After all,
Apple’s iTunes’ online music store is a proven powerhouse, with
more than 25 billion songs sold as of February this year.
Also, according to a
Wall Street Journal article from June 26 (“Apple Spells Out iTunes
Radio Terms”), Apple is offering to pay record labels 0.13 cent
royalties per listen of a song, as compared to Pandora’s rate of
0.12 cents per listen, giving Apple a slight edge (as of press time).
competitors beware: iTunes Radio launches this fall in the United
GOOGLE PLAY (MUSIC)
Since its launch in
November 2011, Google Music (now merged with Android Market to make
Google Play) has yet to seriously challenge the biggies in the online
music space. But given the sheer size of the Android/Chrome user
base, this may yet happen.
In May, the service
headed by Google Play Vice President of Content Jamie Rosenberg
launched a pay version for $9.99 per month called “Google Play
Music All Access.”
That service gives
users access to millions of songs across fixed and mobile devices,
plus the ability to create radio stations and discover new music. An
iOS version of the All Access app is expected to be out soon.
Launched in March
2006 and headed by Chief Executive Officer Sam Tarantino (a
co-founder along with Josh Greenberg), Grooveshark is the “Can’t
Kill ’Em Kid” of online music services. It has survived having
its apps pulled by Apple, Facebook and Google, in response to
Grooveshark being sued for copyright infringement by major music
labels. In April this year, Tarantino was quoted in Mashable claiming
that he was “broke” (in the same article, he was reported to make
$60,000 a year).
offers free music by artist or genre on easy-to-use, low-hassle
www.grooveshark.com, and has launched a premium service called
Grooveshark Anywhere. For $9 per month, or $90 a year, Grooveshark
Anywhere subs get access to the company’s Android/ “jail-broken”
(meaning free of certain restrictions) Apple/BlackBerry/Nokia/Palm
mobile app, plus other exclusive features.
Grooveshark has a
combined total of 30 million unique visitors per month for both its
free and premium services. It seems highly unlikely to dethrone
Pandora, but equally unlikely to simply fade away.
Online since the
summer of 2005 and headed by CEO Joe Kennedy and Founder and Chief
Strategy Officer Tim Westergren, Pandora is the Microsoft of online
music services. Translation: It is the 800 pound gorilla in this
space, but its dominance is uncertain, given not only the launch of
iTunes Radio, but also Kennedy's decision to retire with no successor
in sight at press time, and Pandora's difficulty in turning a profit
due to ongoing music royalty payments. It offers a free version with
ads and a premium subscription ($3.99 per month or $36 per year)
without ads, called Pandora One.
As of April,
Pandora had more than 70.1 million active monthly users; out of that,
2.5 million or so are paying for Pandora One. Pandora is the leading
OEM-installed app for Internet-connected TVs, DVD players and set-top
As Player Number
One, Pandora is in the crosshairs of Apple and Google. Concerns over
Apple’s iRadio copying Pandora’s approach initially hurt
Pandora’s stock value, which has since rebounded. Additionally,
Jacobs Techsurvey 9, a survey of radio users, recently found that
Pandora’s decision to run more commercials is motivating fewer
people to use the service, yet Pandora is reporting more revenue
earned per subscriber (either through ads or premium subscriptions).
As well, its new “Pandora Premieres” feature lets paying subs
hear new albums in full before they go on sale, and subs enjoy that.
Created by Skype
founders Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis in 2009, Rdio.com takes a
social media approach to music, with users encouraged to share songs
and playlists with each other.
It is available
online and on major smartphone platforms, in both free and paid
versions ($9.99 per month for Rdio Unlimited on Web, mobile and
supported players; $4.99 per month for Web only).
The company isn’t
releasing user numbers beyond that, saying, “Since the end of 2012,
we’ve tripled our number of new users.”
by Skype’s founders, and its “music discovery” features —
letting listeners hear new songs similar to those they have
personally selected — have won it respect from consumers and online
music service critics. Ninety percent of its subs are on the $9.99
Rdio Unlimited tier, according to an email from Rdio to Radio World.
Given its December
2001 launch date, Rhapsody.com is the granddaddy of major music
services, and has a made a respectable run so far, with 20 million
subscribers and 1 million paying customers. And it acquired infamous
former online music downloading service Napster (remember that?) in
Headed by President
Jon Irwin, Rhapsody boasts 16 million songs playable on more than 70
consumer electronics devices, including connected audio systems,
smartphones, Android tablets, MP3 players and connected TVs — and
It pioneered the
concept of a monthly flat fee in exchange for unlimited access to
music. Today, Rhapsody has two paid plans; $9.99 per month provides
unlimited music playback plus downloading of music to one mobile
device, while $14.99 per month allows downloads of music to three
Founded in 2006 and
relaunched in February 2013, the freshened-up Slacker.com has been
picked by many, including Forbes magazine, as a worthy challenger to
Pandora and Spotify. Helmed by President/CEO Jim Cady, Slacker offers
more than 200 “expert music curated” stations. That means they
have actual human DJs, plus access to more than 13 million songs
Slacker is available
on the Web and for smartphones, with billing and distribution deals
with every major North American wireless provider, and as an
installed option in cars. The new Slacker has more than 6 million
listeners, with 3.5 million on mobile and 100,000-plus subs for its
$9.99 Slacker Radio
Premium has these features plus music, lyrics, and custom playlist
creation on demand. For the basic $3.99 per month, Slacker Radio Plus
has no ads and ABC/ESPN.
With more than 24
million users, 6 million of them paying subscribers, Spotify.com is a
big player in the online music space. Spotify’s major hooks: Many
musicians have publicly voiced their support for the service
As well, Spotify’s
integration with Facebook means that Spotify subs can see what other
Spotify users are listening to. (This said, a number of Spotify users
have objected to their music choices being made public.)
The free Web service
has ads; the Unlimited service ($4.99/month) has no ads but is
Web-only. Spotify Premium has no ads, all devices and costs
Serving some 40
million listeners each month, TuneIn.com was founded as RadioTime in
2002 and became TuneIn in 2010. The company is headed by CEO John
Donham. Unlike other music services, TuneIn’s angle is to provide
access to actual radio stations (AM/FM/Web) online, with the number
of available outlets currently at around 70,000.
critically-acclaimed (by PC Magazine and Macworld magazines among
others) site also has 2 million programs available on-demand. Its
platform is available on over 200 connected devices; vehicles made by
BMW, Ford, GM and Tesla; on smartphones and tablets, smart TVs and
The $4.99 TuneIn app
(android) allows DVR-type recording and playback of radio programs.
What new media
music platform do you favor and why? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Letter to the Editor” in the subject field.