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Nomen est omen for Rdio, the music subscription service founded by the inventors of Skype: Rdio is going to bring a Pandora-like radio functionality to its service, I was told by Rdio VP of Product Malthe Sigurdsson. “We need to get better at passive listening,” Sigurdsson told me during a conversation at Rdio’s office in San Francisco this week. The move in a way echoes some of the things developers have been doing with Spotify apps, and both point to a bigger problem for music subscription services: With unlimited access to millions of tracks, choice can be a challenge.
Sigurdsson declined to provide further details on the feature and the timing of its implementation, but said that the company is working on it right now. Rdio already offers its users various radio-like playlists based on individual artists as well as social contexts. Users can, for example, listen to a station based on the songs popular with their friends.
The goal was to “become more like Pandora,” he told me, with one key difference: Rdio’s catalog is substantially bigger than what Pandora is currently offering its listeners. Pandora is thought to have about one million tracks in its catalog. Rdio on the other hand boasts a catalog of more than 15 million tracks.
Active listening is hard work
However, a catalog of that size also comes with challenges – challenges that other music subscription services have struggled with as well. Unlimited choice can be overwhelming, and the advantages of an all-you-can-eat subscription model are hard to explain to consumers who might only listen to a small number of releases.
And discovery isn’t the only problem: For many consumers, music is a passive experience, whether it be listening to their own collection in shuffle mode or turning on the radio. Music subscription services on the other hand require you to constantly select new music to listen to, which can be a laborious process. That’s one reason why worldwide, only 13.4 million consumers pay for music subscriptions – but in the U.S. alone, more than 21 million consumers subscribe to XM Radio.
No app platform like Spotify
Spotify has been able to leverage its new app platform to deal with these issues as third-party developers like Soundrop and Moodagent have been adding a more passive listening experience to the Spotify client. Sigurdsson told me this week that Spotify’s apps were “a very smart approach,” but said that Rdio wouldn’t go down this path, in part because it’s focused on a web experience, complete with an API for third-party developers.