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Summary:

The newest music subscription service to launch is Rdio, the creation of Skype and Kazaa founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis. Like some of its newly launched peers, it’s a well-designed service that’s satisfying to curious listeners, but how many people will pay for it?

Music subscription services still haven’t proven themselves in the marketplace, yet new ones keep appearing — the latest being Rdio. Quiet since its existence was first revealed last October, the company co-founded and funded by serial entrepreneurs Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis — who previously gave the world Skype, Kazaa and Joost — has now entered invitation-only beta in the U.S. I’ve been using it for about a week.

Like several others in the marketplace, Rdio -– pronounced “AR-dee-oh” -– promises streaming, cloud-based access to a library of millions of songs for a flat monthly fee. (To learn more about cloud-based streaming, attend Structure, June 23 & 24 in San Francisco) Desktop and mobile access via iPhones and BlackBerrys costs $10 monthly, while desktop-only customers pay $5. That’s an increasingly familiar price point: MOG, which went live last fall and is now preparing its mobile launch, will have the same two-tiered price system, while Rhapsody and Thumbplay both offer desktop-plus-mobile plans for $10; European fave Spotify offers free ad-supported streams and a two-tiered premium plan. (See my report, Spotify Leads the Streaming Music Scene, on GigaOM Pro, sub req’d)

So what’s new? Rdio favors social music discovery via a Twitter-like model based on following other users. Music that’s frequently played among those users turns up in a “heavy rotation” list, a sort of musical version of Twitter’s trending topics. It’s an inherently non-private service, with your listening history as well as your collection of bookmarked songs on display for anyone to scrutinize. That may be a turnoff for some people, but it’s the key to Rdio’s discovery component.

I liked Rdio’s fast-moving, browser-based interface; there’s also a small desktop app that performs seamless playback and inspects your iTunes library in order to populate your web collection. I found the mobile app a little balky, but it survived a road trip test, notably in that since it includes offline caching of songs, I was able to access my favorites while in places where connectivity was sparse. As for the “lean-back” radio element, it’s fairly basic and not terribly flexible, using Allmusic Guide data to construct stations based on a single artist – not trait-based like Pandora or culturally driven like Last.fm, and without the clever slider functionality of MOG.

I’ve already written about some of my frustrations with cloud-based music services, and Rdio doesn’t solve all of my issues concerning interoperability and user experience. While its catalog of almost 5 million songs is growing, it’s still a little spotty –- all four majors are on board, but some but not all major indies are represented. Like its rivals, I see Rdio as a secondary service where I might discover and sample music on-demand, rather than something that can replace ownership of things I like.

Rdio does capably fill the gap between what I own and what I might want to hear but would never pay for — trouble is, not many people have demonstrated a willingness to pay for other cloud music services that do the same thing. (I do believe that paid access models are replacing ownership of music, partly but not completely, and very slowly.) Rdio smartly integrates the better elements of free services –- social connections, discovery, playlisting, radio -– with the paid all-you-can-eat model, bringing everything together into one place in the hopes that people will pony up. It’s a good product that its creators say will become more feature-rich, which is important as Spotify becomes more social and others trick out their services. But while Rdio may be satisfying for a niche of musically curious people, I’m not yet seeing why it would pull away from the pack to become a breakaway hit.

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  1. Looks really nice.

    Paul, do you know if the service is going to be available worlwide or is it like Spotify in terms of country restrictions?

    Oh, and do you have any invites left? :-P

    P.S.: jaimenovoa@gmail.com

    1. Jaime, the Rdio blog suggests that they’ll be introducing the service in other parts of the world soon. Licenses always vary by geography, so every service is encumbered by territorial restrictions.

      My invitations are all gone — sorry!

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  6. Agreed, looks slick. How can I get an invite?

    Thanks,
    David

  7. Sounds interesting,especially for us refugees from recently-closed lala. However, “apps for iPhone, and BlackBerry phones” sounds like weaselspeak for “no Android support.”

  8. Very cool. Can I get an invite?

  9. futuresoftware Friday, June 11, 2010

    I have 10 invites.

    I’ll give 10 people invites if they promise to beta test my future software I’m currently developing.

    e-mail me: xtme2005@yahoo.com

  10. Alex Martinez Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Anything that these two have touched has turned into gold, maybe Rdio will too, although I agree, there are many other programs like it, Spotify,which means they’ll have to come out with something that will differentiate Rdio from other programs. I’ve also heard that kazaa is coming back again looking to take over Itunes…

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