Peter Kafka

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AOL Gets Into Music Subscriptions, Again

There are a lot of companies trying to sell monthly subscriptions for digital music services. Add one more: AOL.

Later this summer the Web site will begin selling access to two new premium Web radio services, which will let listeners enjoy digital radio via their iPhones — and later via iPads and Google’s Android handsets.

The offering is part of a larger move where AOL will use digital music start-up Slacker to power its free radio service, replacing longtime partner CBS.

AOL’s subscription service will also be based off Slacker. Slacker sells a “Radio Plus” offering for $4 a month and a “Premium Radio” for $10 a month, and AOL’s services should be priced similarly. Unlike the free radio service, both paid versions offer ad-free music and more interactivity than the free version, which is like Pandora except that it uses humans instead of algorithms to program music.

AOL Music chief Jeff Bronikowski says AOL’s existing radio service already draws around three million unique visitors a month, who listen to about 30 million hours of music.

AOL used to have a monthly subscription service, but sold it off in 2007 to Napster. Why try selling music again?

“Users have actually asked us for a subscription offering for a while,” Bronikowski says.

The trick will be distinguishing AOL’s offering from the competition, which is growing all the time: In addition to Pandora’s radio service, which also offers a premium version, there are on-demand subscriptions from the likes of Rhapsody, Rdio and MOG; U.K.-based Spotify should also be in the U.S. by the time AOL is selling subscriptions again.

AOL ANNOUNCES PARTNERSHIP WITH SLACKER INC. TO DELIVER
ENHANCED ONLINE RADIO LISTENING EXPERIENCE

Slacker Inc. to Become AOL Music Network’s Exclusive Radio Partner

New York, NY – June 28, 2011 – The AOL Huffington Post Media Group’s AOL Music is re-launching AOL Radio in partnership with Slacker Inc., it was announced today. AOL Radio will offer an enhanced radio experience with fewer ads, new personalization features and premium subscription offerings. The new service will deliver three product tiers to users: free AOL Radio with personalization and customization by Slacker, ad-free and feature-rich Slacker Radio Plus and on-demand access with Slacker Premium Radio.

AOL’s partnership with Slacker Inc. will provide access to ad-free radio and enable users to create tailored radio stations, save favorite songs and stations, read album reviews, access artist biographies, review station histories, and skip up to six songs per hour, per station. The partnership will enable Slacker to deliver its new radio offerings to a larger audience, allow AOL Radio and Slacker to develop new advertising opportunities for mutual clients and integrate AOL Music’s original editorial voice across all its services.

“Slacker Radio is the perfect partner to significantly increase the quality of our offerings,” said Lisa Namerow, Head of AOL Radio. “By combining AOL Radio’s reach with the success of Slacker in mobile, we are increasing the distribution of our brands and further identifying AOL Radio as a leader in delivering superior radio experiences.”

“Both companies bring unique content and functionality to this new partnership,” said Jim Cady, CEO of Slacker. “Aligning our strengths will enable us to expand our reach to greater opportunities across multiple platforms. We are thrilled to work with AOL Radio to continue to improve how music lovers experience radio.”

Upon the launch of the new AOL Radio player, Slacker will lead advertising sales within the player, enabling AOL to package a portion of the inventory for premium AOL Music integrated sponsorships.

The new AOL Radio and its award winning iPhone App, which has been downloaded more than 3 million times*, will re-launch in late summer. Android and other platform launches will follow shortly thereafter. The new player will also continue to host AOL’s 250 expert-programmed original music stations, as well as additional new Slacker programming including stations and content from ESPN Radio and ABC News Radio, which will include additional offerings and stations for subscribers.

*According to Apple’s App Store (via iTunes Connect)


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work