Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Free Music For Everyone! Rdio Joins MOG, Spotify in the Big Digital Music Giveaway

Free, legal music on the web looked like a defunct business model just a few months ago. Now it seems to be going through a revival phase.

Over the summer, Spotify finally opened for business in the U.S. and included a free, ad-supported option in its offerings. Now both MOG and Rdio, two other subscription music services, are adding big free components themselves.

Tomorrow MOG is rolling out a Web-based, ad-supported version of the service that gives users an undisclosed amount of free streaming music, which they can keep listening to if they engage with the service in certain ways, like sharing playlists with friends.

And soon Rdio will offering something similar, with two differences: Its free version will be ad-free, and the company won’t prompt users to take certain actions to keep the free going. It will decide, out of the user’s sight, how long to extend the free trial period, with the intent of getting them to upgrade to a $10 monthly subscription.

The timing of the new free services aren’t accidental. They’re both being announced in advance of Facebook’s F8 developer conference next Thursday. That’s when the social network is expected to announce a new music service that will incorporate MOG and Rdio as well as Spotify.

Details about Facebook’s service are still sketchy, but the primary gist is that Facebook won’t be building its own music service. Instead it will work as a hub that allows existing services’ users to share their tunes with their friends.

But it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to listen to a friend’s Spotify song unless you’re a Spotify user yourself. So it’s crucial for the services to make sure that signing up to use them is as easy as possible. And requiring someone to pay to listen to a friend’s song seems like a non-starter.

Hence: Lots of free trials that last for an undefined period.

Rdio CEO Drew Larner won’t comment about Facebook and its upcoming service. But he will talk about the strategy of offering free music, but only for a limited time. “We know free is powerful, it’s a great way to increase your funnel,” he says. “But it’s about not creating a tier for an alternative or replacement for what would be a paying subscriber.”

Ultimately Rdio, MOG and Spotify, along with services like Rhapsody, are all trying to get to the same place. They want customers to pay them a $10 monthly fee for unlimited music that works on both the web and devices like Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android.

That’s a model the music industry was never happy about until recently, in large part because free ad-supported services like iMeem, MySpace Music, Qtrax, and Spiralfrog sputtered and/or failed completely.

The other option for music fans who don’t want to pay for music but don’t want to break the law is to play with Web radio services like Pandora and Clear Channel’s new iheartradio.

Those services let you listen to unlimited music, for free, but don’t give you on-demand access. Instead, you need to let them program your music for you in some capacity.

Somewhere in between the two sits, which is also free, but gives users more control of their music — for now, at least, while the company tries to hammer out label deals. The service is also expected to play a role in the F8 announcement next week.

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— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”