Last.fm Is Not Dying, and Here’s Why
By on March 6th, 2011

Last.fm Last.fm is an interesting company. It started off as two different projects one involving online radio, and one involving recommendations. It was born as the internet was beginning to recover from the dot-com bubble burst. While Last.fm might no longer be the coolest kid in the town, a lot of people, including me, still have a soft spot for it. Naturally, when I first noticed the title of Stefan’s TNW editorial How long is Last.fm gonna last?, I was outraged. How dare he! But as I read his post and deliberated on the issue, I could see why he had arrived at the conclusion that Last.fm is heading towards oblivion.

I may not have been the earliest adopter of Last.fm, but I had joined it at a time when it was still considered hip and fun. Besides MySpace, Last.fm was the go to website for music lovers. It had the neat ability to generate charts based on what I had been listening to. Of course, those charts weren’t generated in real-time, because back then almost nothing on the web was real-time. I would check last.fm multiple times at the beginning of a week to see if the charts had been updated. I had friends, who would do the same. We would spend hours every week comparing each other’s tastes, checking out Last.fm suggestions, browsing through the most popular artists, etcetera etcetera. In short, I loved Last.fm.

Then in 2007, Last.fm got acquired by CBS (and I went to college). As always, the news was treated with cautious optimism. While CBS had the money and influence to expand Last.fm’s reach, it could also potentially spell trouble for the website by taking away its trendiness.

Next year, Last.fm rolled out a design overhaul that added several new features, and made dozens of modifications. Although a certain (vocal) section of Last.fm’s dedicated user base didn’t like the changes, my impressions were mostly positive. It allayed my fears about stagnation at the hands of a large corporation.

Unfortunately, since then, it has been mostly one bit of negative news after another. Last.fm stopped providing free streams to everyone other than users based in US, UK and Germany. It allegedly leaked user data to RIAA. The founders left the company. It stopped providing free preview streams for a large percentage of the tracks. And last month, it stopped its free mobile service even in countries like UK, US and Germany.

Being a web based content-provider in the music industry is tough. The record labels are still mostly clueless about the web as a content distribution medium. I would have to admit that most of the stuff I mentioned above were things beyond Last.fm’s control. However, that doesn’t change the fact that they happened, and that they had an overall negative impact on the product’s quality and value. In the meantime, Spotify has come along, and conquered Western Europe. Grooveshark has won accolades by offering high quality music for free to everyone.

To make things worse, Last.fm as a product has stagnated. There has been very little in the way of new features over the past few years. The charting and recommendation engines are the differentiating factors for Last.fm. However, they have seen little in the way of improvements in the last four years. Tight integration of charts with profiles and communities has the potential to make Last.fm an attractive destination for music lovers. But the once coolest kid in the block seems to have lost all its creative energy.

So, are Last.fm’s days numbered? I don’t think so. Although I agree with Stefan’s overall assessment of Last.fm, I believe that Last.fm is still quite far from heading towards oblivion. It might have lost its chance to become the king of online radio; however, its core product is as appealing as it was five years back. Last.fm might no longer be chic, but it still is useful. Even switching to a premium model didn’t make users stop coming back, because Last.fm is a lot more than just an online radio. The thing that makes users coming back to Last.fm is Audioscrobbler, which works from pretty much any music player, and any device.

While I don’t believe that Last.fm is not going to go anywhere anytime soon, I would love to see Last.fm regain its edge. It needs to reorient its website and applications to make them an integral part of a music enthusiast’s life, instead of just being a website you visit a few times a week. Last.fm has to increase user engagement, and one way to do so is to completely revamp user pages. The shoutbox is currently relegated to the bottom of the page where it is mostly ignored by users. If last.fm wants to increase the amount of time users spend on their website, it has to find a way to make users interact with their friends more. The homepage has to do more than just displaying what my friends are listening to now. It needs to implement a site-wide playlist to encourage users to listen to music without using the desktop client. The mobile apps should encourage users to shout out their opinion. Last.fm should also try out of the box revenue generation mechanisms like allowing users to purchase and dedicate songs to loved ones. I don’t want to see Last.fm turning into a Facebook, but it needs to leverage the huge pile of data it is sitting upon better.

What do you think? Do you agree with Stefan? Do you still use Last.fm? Drop a line and let us know.

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Author: Pallab De Google Profile for Pallab De
Pallab De is a blogger from India who has a soft spot for anything techie. He loves trying out new software and spends most of his day breaking and fixing his PC. Pallab loves participating in the social web; he has been active in technology forums since he was a teenager and is an active user of both twitter (@indyan) and facebook .

Pallab De has written and can be contacted at pallab@techie-buzz.com.
  • http://www.thenextweb.com ditisstefan

    Nice article! The title of my article was quite provocative so it’s good to see it’s provoking reactions. I’m glad we agree (partially :)). In fact, I think we completely agree. As you said, Last.fm as a product is stagnating. That indeed, doesn’t mean it’s dead… But I think on the internet standing still means falling behind (this is where we might disagree?). Websites are constantly evolving, adapting to users’ needs. Last.fm needs to do that (again), otherwise users will be more tempted to try new competition… As you wrote: “Last.fm has to increase user engagement.” If it’s not going to do that, eventually it will be replaced…

    • http://www.pallab.net Pallab De

      You are right. Both of us are obviously big fans of Last.fm, and we are disappointed with it. I would also agree that on the internet, standing still means falling behind. Last.fm has already fallen behind in terms of on-demand radio. However, I think where we disagree is, on the value of Last.fm as a platform. I think that it won’t be so easy for a new guy to come in, whip up a recommendation engine, and displace Last.fm. In fact, there are already alternatives, but when it comes to music recommendation and music discovery, Last.fm is still my favorite.

  • Lee @ljroquet

    I think radio stations, or media broadcasters, can learn a lot from the Last.fm story. It is not enough to have a cool concept, content, or site you have to focus on managing the relationships of your followers. Now more then ever users want to connect and engage with a brand–station, stream, site, etc. it is the role of the broadcast medium to not only push great content but listen to what the users are doing and want. I like what last.fm started but they have lost the focus, the listeners. I would like to see all local radio stations to evolve to the last.fm model–a mix of Ning.com, skimmer, and slacker all rolled into one. Let me built my content/music from a source that also gives me local talent and news. I would engage more with a brand that I felt apart of rather then being force feed a stream of content that is so far from my impute that I look to other sources for my listening. Unless last.fm sees the end game, which isn’t pushing music it’s managing their listeners relationship, their site will be gone and replaced by someone who gets this. There is a startup or larger social group that will nail it soon so watch out slow evolving current offerings. Thanks

    • Brian

      I hadn’t been interested that much in streaming music until I bought a smartphone (android). To my way of thinking any company that can globally charge a subscription for a service, but then restrict access to the service you are paying for depending on a combination of device + location is ethically bankrupt. enough said..

  • Playa

    Last.fm has kinda gone a bit stale recently, but is still such a unique thing, and much more than just a listening experience. The amount of music I’ve discovered over the years because of Last.fm is phenomenal. My personal station plays reggae artists with 20 listeners, right next to Depeche Mode b-sides with 100,000 listeners. No traditional station would in a million years play that kind of mix of music, and Last.fm was started for that purpose- to bring the right music to the right ears. With Spotify I listen to the same old music over and over (I’m unadventurous like that.) With Last.fm, it learns what I’ve scrobbled from Spotify, and it throws all kinds of interesting things into the mix. It is the world’s best DJ! Without the inane chatter. CBS may not have done the best job with Last.fm, but actually, it is still early days. Integrating Last.fm with CBS Radio has happened (from listening to KROQ it is always given shout outs.), and Last.fm will undoubtably provide intelligence and statistics for the radio stations. Last.fm on Xbox launched too under CBS. Last.fm’s office in London is the scruffiest looking council block in the area. I’m amazed the website has gained worldwide attention from that horrible building. Rent must be cheap though.

  • Stephen Gorin

    Greetings,

    Granted the LastFM Website could use a good visual jacking, I feel strongly its here to stay. Its “Shout” feature is absent from Pandora and that is a big difference. Further to non-paid subscribers, Pandora shuts off after forty hours per month; LastFM does not.

    My only complaint, and it is significant is the shallowness of their play-lists. There is so much music available I do not understand why they do not dig deeper in their library. This may have to do with the RIAA. Pity.

    bye,

    Stephen

  • Jānis

    I just canceled recurring payment of last.fm. Half of my loved tracks are not available any more. So… This pretty much shows my attitude to Last.Fm
    They were awesome, while they were free. Now – guys – this is great example of how to F* up a good project.

  • Steamer

    Still think It’s not?
    I love Last.fm. Madly, but it has been in decline for a long while now. Such a shame as I made several great friends there.

 
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