The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

Free Pandora (and Internet radio)!

When I’m not listening to Jazz games online, I tune to Internet radio. My favorite is Pandora, which bills itself as the Music Genome Project. Like its human counterpart, Pandora has dissected the songs of more than 10,000 artists into hundreds of musical “genes.” By typing in the name of one artist or song, Pandora creates a playlist with songs and artists hans-mug.jpgthat have a similar musical genetic heritage. For me, it creates the perfect ambiance for whatever I’m doing, whether it’s calm, collected reading or soothing my frustrations after losing an online game of Ticket to Ride. My “stations” now include Staind, Elton John, Jamiroquai, Fall Out Boy and The Fray.

I never stopped to wonder how Pandora can afford to provide this valuable service, until I received an e-mail from Pandora’s founder Tim Westergren. It seems Internet radio is not free. In fact, the RIAA is trying to charge more than four times as much to release songs for online listening as they do to Sirius and XM satellite radio.

Look, I’m not one to jump on the bandwagon of the latest Internet cause. For example, my understanding of Net Neutrality comes from a particularly hilarious and informative episode of Ask a Ninja. But I’ve got to sound off on the Internet radio controversy because I think it’s right in the Cyberbrains’ wheelhouse. How, you ask? It has nothing to do with user-generated content. But it represents another misguided corporate attempt to exercise so much control over content that it ends up alienating users.

To me, sites like Pandora present an invaluable opportunity to expand an audience. I doubt I ever would have heard about the Scissor Sisters if they hadn’t shown up in my Jamiroquai station. Heck, I even enjoyed a Prince song without even knowing it, and that’s a pretty big leap for me. If I ran the RIAA, I’d deeply discount what I charged an Internet radio station because it brings new fans and buyers right to my doorstep. Instead, the RIAA is so fearful of losing a penny of profit and so ignorant of long-term benefits that it sabotages an honest effort to bring music fans together. It’s not like this is MySpace or YouTube, which re-purpose copyrighted content. Internet radio is willing to pay, but only the same as everyone else.

Like most of its media counterparts, the RIAA isn’t even trying to understand its audience or what makes the Internet different. It is simply reacting to what it sees as a disruption rather than an opportunity. Online listeners aren’t petty criminals who’d rather steal than pay for quality content.

In the end, it might take an act of Congress to save Internet radio. The Internet Radio Equality Act has 74 sponsors in the House of Representatives, and a companion bill has been introduced in the Senate. But it doesn’t need to go this far. Learn from this example, entertainment and journalism executives, to realize you need to adapt to new technologies not force them to conform to your antiquated ideals.

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May 18, 2007 - Posted by | Hans Meyer

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