Pandora: We're Helping Artists Make Millions & We'd Like To Keep Doing That

from the interesting-to-see dept

For all the talk of new music platforms not paying artists enough, we keep hearing counter stories. The latest is that Pandora has revealed that two artists -- Drake and Lil' Wayne -- will make somewhere close to $3 million in royalty payments from Pandora this year. Lots of other artists make many thousands of dollars as well:
Have you heard of Donnie McClurkin, French Montana or Grupo Bryndis? If you haven't you're not alone. They are artists whose sales ranks on Amazon are 4,752, 17,000 and 183,187, respectively. These are all working artists who live well outside the mainstream - no steady rotation on broadcast radio, no high profile opening slots on major tours, no front page placement in online retail. What they also have in common is a steady income from Pandora. In the next twelve months Pandora is on track to pay performance fees of $100,228, $138,567 and $114,192, respectively, for the music we play to their large and fast-growing audiences on Pandora.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. For over two thousand artists Pandora will pay over $10,000 dollars each over the next 12 months (including one of my favorites, the late jazz pianist Oscar Peterson), and for more than 800 we'll pay over $50,000, more than the income of the average American household. For top earners like Coldplay, Adele, Wiz Khalifa, Jason Aldean and others Pandora is already paying over $1 million each. Drake and Lill Wayne are fast approaching a $3 million annual rate each.

Of course, while all of this is happening, Pandora is not yet profitable, and may never be profitable -- as it is required, under current webcasting rates, to pay about 50% of its revenue out as royalties (while terrestrial radio and satellite radio get to pay much, much less). As Tim Westergren has pointed out, because of the crazy rates, plenty of other webcasting operations have just left the business entirely -- meaning that there just aren't that many players in this space, because it just isn't profitable for the companies, even as they're developing important new revenue streams for artists.

I'll have more on this later, but it often seems that legacy players really have no concept of "the golden goose." They assume that any tech company, who is moderately successful in getting users, simply should be bled dry, paying out just about everything to artists, with nothing left for the companies themselves. They think that the music is the entire value, and the service provided is not very important. And yet, without that service, none of that money would come in at all. At some point, the legacy guys are going to have to realize that they're better off having a healthy ecosystem of services, rather than squeezing the absolute highest rates out of these companies, in a way where they can't survive.


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    Ninja (profile), Oct 10th, 2012 @ 7:09am

    If the MAFIAA saw value in the service provided they'd know by now how Google makes its money. Yet they seem to think Google only profits on the content generated by the users...

    Netflix, Pandora, Spotify and many others are there to simply crush their favorite argument that you can't compete with free and yet they are simply ignoring it and worse, trying to kill them.

    Futile discussion, focus on preventing them from changing the laws in their favor and wait till they die naturally by multiple shots in the feet.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 10:11am

      Re:

      What does the article have to with "the mafiaa" ? (quite an infantile meme you bozos have going there, btw)

      Read what Masnick wrote. He's bitching because artists are getting paid better than the tech company.

      Freudian slip.

       

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        Ninja (profile), Oct 10th, 2012 @ 10:56am

        Re: Re:

        U sure you read the article? He's criticizing the royalties paid. Who deals with the royalties? That's right, the MAFIAA. +1 candy for you.

        Also, the term is used to refer to the anti-piracy collectives in general and how their behavior are similar to the Mafias with less illegal moves and much more legal abuse of the system.

        The fact that it is a meme alright is new to me though, thanks for informing. The fact that you think it's infantile is irrelevant ;)

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2012 @ 12:29am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "anti-piracy collectives " = those that actually pay musicians for their work.

          Unlike, say,

          Google, Demonoid, Utorrent, WhatCD, blah blah blah.

          You know, internet leeches that exploit the work of others.

          What a noble cause you're championing there, pal...

           

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            PaulT (profile), Oct 11th, 2012 @ 1:22am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Love the pointless attack on what people aren't saying. Would you mind addressing what they are saying for a moment? I know it's more difficult than tearing down the fictions you construct, but give it a shot!

             

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        JMT (profile), Oct 10th, 2012 @ 5:17pm

        Re: Re:

        (quite an infantile meme you bozos have going there, btw)

        You mean like "piracy"?

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2012 @ 12:24am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Please tell me if I can vote for the 'mafiaa' party next election...

          Didn't really think that one all the way through, did you Sparky?

           

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            PaulT (profile), Oct 11th, 2012 @ 1:24am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "Please tell me if I can vote for the 'mafiaa' party next election..."

            You can vote for any of their cronies - democrat, republican or independent. Where's the party that will retain the rights for ordinary people and tell these morons to actually offer what people want to pay for instead of enforcing a business model that stopped being viable over a decade ago?

             

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            JMT (profile), Oct 11th, 2012 @ 8:21pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "Didn't really think that one all the way through, did you Sparky?"

            Sure I did, but I also dismissed that as irrelevant. My point was that both sides of the argument invent or redefine terms to describe the other side. Do you really think copyright infringement compares in any way to "an act of robbery or criminal violence at sea"?

             

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        R.H. (profile), Oct 11th, 2012 @ 10:03am

        Re: Re:

        Just in case you didn't know, MAFIAA is an, admittedly made up, acronym for the 'Music And Film Association of America'. There was once a parody article discussing the merger of the RIAA and MPAA and this was the chosen acronym. Ninja has already explained why this acronym was chosen.

         

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    PaulT (profile), Oct 10th, 2012 @ 7:19am

    I'd like to be helping them too, I enjoyed using them in the early days before they were restricted. Sadly, they're still not allowed to offer their service to me and the rest of the world outside of the US. Oh well, at least I have Spotify to turn to for now...

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 7:42am

      Re:

      Same here. I'd be using both if only Pandora were available, and back before the restriction I discovered quite a few new artists with it.

      I keep wondering why artists are not complaining much more about how things like this keep their audience from even hearing about them in the first place.

       

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        Keroberos (profile), Oct 10th, 2012 @ 11:55am

        Re: Re:

        I keep wondering why artists are not complaining much more about how things like this keep their audience from even hearing about them in the first place.
        Many are. The problem is all the artists still locked into the the record labels may not be aware of how much services like these are helping them reach new fans--and generate new revenue. The record labels like to keep it this way--the more artists that realize they no longer need them, the less likely they it is that they can get these artists to sign new contracts with them.

         

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          TroutFishingUSA, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 12:16pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Have you ever gotten any of your music played on Pandora? (I have) This idea that they're helping out unknown artists is a little misguided, even though that myth is perpetuated by Pandora themselves. They used to be very open to accepting unknown--and I mean unknown backwoods type--submissions. Sadly, about four or five years ago, they massively overhauled their submissions process and have become just one more needless gatekeeper kowtowing to label interests. Unsigned artists need not apply.

           

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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Oct 10th, 2012 @ 7:21am

    Into the wild future!

    "Pandora is not yet profitable, and may never be profitable -- as it is required, under current webcasting rates, to pay about 50% of its revenue out as royalties (while terrestrial radio and satellite radio get to pay much, much less)."

    This is perfect! Now, when radio broadcasting fades away, they groundwork for raping webcasters will already be a precedent and the US Courts & DOJ will continue to violently enforce the MAFIAA "rights" to "earn" money for doing not a damn thing.

    (/shill /troll /not.sure.what.to.tag.this.with)

     

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    Lord Binky, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 7:29am

    " it often seems that legacy players really have no concept of "the golden "

    That's because they believe they ARE the golden goose. So they decide "There can be only one" and go Golden Goose Highlander on everyone else.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 7:32am

    1- Online service pops up, driving people to spend money on music instead of just pirating it. Musicians are making money, customers are happy, life is peachy;
    2- Kill online service;
    3- Profit?

    See Mike, the RIAA didn't need a fancy-pants website to figure what step 2 is. Just kill everything that looks different, and then complain you ass off when people resort to piracy due to lack of legitimate options.

     

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    Zakida Paul (profile), Oct 10th, 2012 @ 7:45am

    What is Pandora? We don't have this in the UK.

     

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      New Mexico Mark, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 10:02am

      Re:

      Plays music based on stylistic preferences (and fine-tunes those preferences over time).

      It's like having a radio station you can tune to your own favorite styles. Besides my favorites, I often hear new music, and I usually enjoy it because it matches styles I enjoy. it's certainly a good idea. I wish they "tuned" on lyrical preferences as well, but maybe someday if they're not out of business...

       

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      Greg (profile), Oct 10th, 2012 @ 10:35am

      Re:

      Pandora is my favourite online music service. LOVE Pandora. I've found so many new artists there in the past because of the way its music recommendation engine works. No other service offers recommendations like it that I'm aware of, and I've tried last.fm and a couple others. Sadly, it's no longer available in Canada due to copyright issues, so the amount of new music I get exposed to has dropped off massively. Thanks RIAA! :(

      P.S. Did I suddenly go back to the record shops when Pandora Canada disappeared? Nope. Still searching for an equivalent internet alternative.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 7:53am

    the legacy companies bleed the web companies dry so they dont have to do anything themselves to adapt or adopt. the artists get paid and so do they, leaving basically nothing for those doing the work. this is all intentional though, so that the fewer web companies there are, the better. the legacy companies having the opinion that customers will go back to the shops and buy cds again. all i can say is, carry on guys. you are killing the golden goose. sooner or later the web sales will stop but the stampede back to cds is never gonna happen. yes, the web sites will disappear but so will you, and not a day too soon!!

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 7:56am

    "Pandora is not yet profitable, and may never be profitable..."

    First, yes, I read the reason above. I'm sure royalty rates are too high.

    But I don't just skip past the HUGE QUESTION! -- Who exactly is funding this perpetually LOSING MODEL?

    There are corollaries: if Pandora can withstand the current royalty rates (however it does), what's wrong with them? Obvioulsy it's found "whatever the market will bear". (Costs DON'T matter if the profits are high enough -- not even the "profit margin", but the amounts that go to everyone involved.)

    Second corollary is that manifestly more is going on in this losing propostion than Mike bothers with. I'd suspect either tax advantages or hidden kickbacks. But Mention-Then-Forget Mike* the Ivy League economist doesn't think that's interesting...

    [* In his "can't compete" piece still featured on a side link, Mike mentions "sunk (or fixed) costs" of $100 million for a movie, then utterly forgets it! Yeah, it's easy when your "business" can lose money or ignore costs. But nothing on this site is real world examples, it's all JUST "models".]

     

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      Ninja (profile), Oct 10th, 2012 @ 8:18am

      Re: "Pandora is not yet profitable, and may never be profitable..."

      There are corollaries: if Pandora can withstand the current royalty rates (however it does), what's wrong with them?

      If you can survive with very basic stuff (namely food, water, basic clothing and a home) what's wrong with the Government charges 90% of your monthly wage as tax? See the problem with your comment? The current rates do not allow for reasonable profits for the ones providing such services.

      As for your sunk cost whining it's fairly simple: do you believe Pandora would be able to sustain itself if people didn't find their service useful? Do you really think it matters that $100 million were spent if the movie is utter crap? Do you ignore the fact that the most pirated movies are also mind blowing revenue successes? Can you please explain what the fuck this has to do with charging slightly lower rates so businesses like Pandora and Netflix can thrive and take your content to the users in a manner they'll pay regardless of having the opportunity of getting for free?

      I don't think you can give a reasonable reply for any of those besides your meaningless, baseless and annoying whining.

       

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        TroutFishingUSA, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 11:57am

        Re: Re: "Pandora is not yet profitable, and may never be profitable..."

        The current rates do not allow for reasonable profits for the ones providing such services.


        I'm confused. Are you referring to the artists' services or Pandora's services? Because if Pandora is allowed to pay what US radio pays (or doesn't pay, really), then the artists are the ones who will be denied a reasonable profit for their services.

        It's a simple solution: if Pandora can't pay artists, Pandora shouldn't play artists. It's what every single business has to deal with. If McDonald's can't pay employees, then Mickey D's doesn't get employees. They don't get to have the government indenture employees to them. There are plenty of small artists who will go in with Pandora at lower rates, but we all know that it's the BIG artists that get the eyeballs/listens, so Pandora would be foolish to forgo those catalogs. But since they can't afford it (or rather, their execs don't get enough profit to snort bad blow off half-dressed nitwits), they want the government to step in. It's sick stuff.

        I see no reason why the government or anybody else should be forcing artists to lower their rates.

        And I used to like Pandora; but trying to perpetuate this rip off that was started by US radio is unconscionable. Let's take a look at some of the company we keep among those countries that also don't have radio performance rights: North Korea, Iran, China, Rwanda.

         

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    Overcast (profile), Oct 10th, 2012 @ 7:58am

    Out of the last 5 CD's I have bought - 5 of them I heard on Pandora first.

    I have Pandora One - but otherwise.. I had HEARD MUSIC FOR FREE and then bought it - wow!!

     

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      Zakida Paul (profile), Oct 10th, 2012 @ 8:12am

      Re:

      Shock. Horror. I, too, have listened to a lot of music for free through Last FM and Grooveshark but have still gone and bought it. Who would have thought it, eh?

       

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        Ninja (profile), Oct 10th, 2012 @ 8:20am

        Re: Re:

        Must be alien economics, it's far too complex for our little whinny trolls and their moronic bosses at the MAFIAA to understand. Regardless of empirical evidence thrown at their faces.

         

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    TOG, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 8:19am

    Paying out 50% of revenues should not equal no profits

    I agree that it is inequitable for online streaming companies to pay royalties equal to 50% of revenues when traditional radio pays far less.

    However, I really have to wonder why Pandora is unable to earn a profit.

    Consider a traditional retailer. They purchase goods, pay rents, pay salaries, etc., etc. They then sell goods for a markup that is almost never 100%. In some industries, the markups are in single digit percentages.

    If you think about the requirement of paying 50% of revenues instead as simply that Pandora is selling its product (i.e., the license to listen to a streamed song) for a 100% markup, it's a lot harder to feel sorry for them.

    Perhaps, instead of complaining that they are not profitable because of the "revenue sharing" (i.e., legal extortion) scheme, Pandora should be looking at why it is not profitable.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 9:11am

      Re: Paying out 50% of revenues should not equal no profits

      The retailer has fixed costs, including the cost of what they sell. Pandora has to pay out 50% of its income for music royalties, and thenfind its fixed costs for bandwicdth etc.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 2:11pm

      Re: Paying out 50% of revenues should not equal no profits

      I would assume that the reason they are not profitable is not due to the licensing fees being paid to the artists, but due to the additional fees they have to pay to the labels to have the ability to OFFER the artists music.

      Compare to a radio station and the costs are similar, utilities, equipment, and personnel which make up a large portion of the expenses (lets say 50%)... now if the radio stations have to pay a 20% licensing fee to the labels, they still have a 30% profit margin... if Pandora has to pay a 50% licensing fee (mainly to the artists), they have 0% profit margin....

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 7:23pm

      Re: Paying out 50% of revenues should not equal no profits

      "However, I really have to wonder why Pandora is unable to earn a profit."

      That's the killer here. Mike goes on and on about bandwidth being so cheap, and all that, and yet when it comes time to explain why a company doesn't make money, suddenly bandwidth is a big expense.

      The business model of Pandora should be a huge money spinner. Any business where the basic costs of operations are fixed as a percentage of advertising means they should be profitable if they scale up. Pandora's real problem appears to be not enough clients, not enough advertising to cover it's other costs with a margin after materials of 50%.

      I am guessing that Pandora has discovered that, in a world full of pirates getting content for nothing, not enough consumers are willing to listen to ads to get their service.

      The other thing is that Pandora isn't available outside of the US, but with a 50% payout rate, they should have no problem signing new licensing agreements for the rest of the world. My guess is the real issue of profitability of Pandora has absolutely nothing to do with the licensing agreements, and more to do with the costs of operating the business.

      Licensing is a handy scapegoat that people like Mike can latch onto, hiding the real issues of the business.

       

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        PaulT (profile), Oct 11th, 2012 @ 1:31am

        Re: Re: Paying out 50% of revenues should not equal no profits

        "I am guessing"

        I do love the fact that you attack Mike for making an educated, reasonable opinion with the information at hand, then admit that the "truth" you're pushing is also pulled from your own nether regions.

        "Wahhh!!! Pirates!!!" isn't working any more, find a new song.

        "Pandora's real problem appears to be not enough clients,"

        Where? They're not allowed to expand their market, as you later admit.

        "The other thing is that Pandora isn't available outside of the US, but with a 50% payout rate, they should have no problem signing new licensing agreements for the rest of the world"

        From the very same people who insisted on them not being available outside the US in the first place, no less. I wonder where the problem could lie?

        "Licensing is a handy scapegoat"

        Just as piracy is for you. One is a real problem, the other can be bypassed by... well, licencing content to legal providers at a reasonable rate and not forcing them to block 5/6th of the planet from using their service.

         

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    Overcast (profile), Oct 10th, 2012 @ 8:27am

    Seriously - WHO busy music without hearing it first?

    Ok, I mean, maybe if you are a big fan of a group/artist you might, but then you wouldn't be a 'big fan' had you not heard the music, for free, somewhere first.

    Sure, maybe the CD's I buy are often used, but I buy new also. Pandora is this old man's gateway to new music. I've bought more music in the last 90 days than the last 7 years; thanks to PandoraOne.

     

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      jupiterkansas (profile), Oct 11th, 2012 @ 9:50am

      Re:

      It's that they want you to hear new music through avenues they control, so that they can control what you new music you hear (mainly major label bands). They have that with radio but not Pandora, which helps people find indie music.

       

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    Beech, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 9:16am

    Pandora partners

    I've always wondered why Pandora doesn't just find non-label-affiliated acts willing to accept lower royalty rates in exchange for a priority spot in Pandoras algorithm.

    An example:

    -UMG artist collects 50% of Pandora's ad revenue per play.

    -Independent "Pandora Premium Partner" accepts 0-10% of the revenue.

    Therefore, when Pandora is trying to decide what track to play next, the PPP is given more consideration than it normally would be. That way, the "popular" label acts still get played and paid, but smaller guys get a lot more exposure in exchange for their "cut".

    Sounds like nothing but a win-win to me.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 9:24am

      Re: Pandora partners

      unless of course the UMG contract states that they have to be given equal or better consideration than independant artists... not that the lawyers would ever think of including such a clause...

       

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    Kdiz, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 9:46am

    I like teachers....

    I'm just waiting for the day that somebody takes away are Pandora because it infringes on someone's rights 2 rob us blind for what we can get streaming. I guarantee Pandora isn't doing this for free. I gladly pay my 36 dollars a year. Guess its effects of our trickle down government.
    Romney said it first.... Idiot

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2012 @ 6:38pm

    French Stewart + Hannah Montana = French Montana?

     

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    catullusrl, Oct 11th, 2012 @ 4:22am

    More FUD from Masnick

    Pandora plays less than 1 minute of advertising per hour.
    Terrestrial radio plays about 13 minutes per hour.
    If you play less ads, your revenue is less. If you play less ads, you play more music so your costs are going to be higher. This explains why Pandora pays such a high percentage of its revenue in royalties. Maybe Pandora should play more ads rather than whine about "unfairness".
    I doubt even lower rates will save Pandora.It will just lower barriers to entry for internet radio and the big boys (Apple,Google,Microsoft) will jump in.

     

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      PaulT (profile), Oct 11th, 2012 @ 4:43am

      Re: More FUD from Masnick

      "Maybe Pandora should play more ads rather than whine about "unfairness"."

      Yes, because multiplying the number of ads you play will never backfired, and people who listen to it certainly don't use the service because there's too many ads on commercial radio!

      Oh, and you seem to be missing the fundamental argument. This isn't just about Pandora's issues, but the fact that high royalty rates have pushed most of their competition out of the market. If Pandora are making them millions, why does it not make sense to adjust the royalty rates to both allow them to be profitable and encourage new players in the market?

      "I doubt even lower rates will save Pandora.It will just lower barriers to entry for internet radio and the big boys (Apple,Google,Microsoft) will jump in."

      ...and that would be a bad thing... why?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2012 @ 8:01am

    Many players have already gotten out of the Internet radio business because they cannot afford the CRB rates, and an unknown number have never gotten into it for the same reason. The only reason Pandora can even afford to continue operating is that they've negotiated some deals that allow lower rates than the CRB. Mind you, these CRB rates are the same ones the MAFIAA says are too low and keep pushing to jack them up, up, up. They try to portray it as the artists deserving more money, but my bet is that they know damn well the real result is that no one will be able to afford the rates and it will drive all the Internet radio operators out of business, and the artists won't be getting any money.

    And why would they want to do this? Because they're trying to preserve their gatekeeper role. Their objective is to keep music discovery in check so that a critical mass of the general public is mostly exposed to the blockbuster hits they're trying to promote and turn in to multi-platinum best-sellers, which they were able to do in concert with broadcasters before you had things like filesharing, Internet radio, and online retailers that aren't limited to keeping only a few thousand titles in stock, things that make it much to easy for consumers to discover and purchase music they enjoy from backlists, obscure genres, and lesser-known artists. When too many consumers are spreading out their music spending among these CDs instead of the ones the record companies want to be in their faces, they see that as a bad thing.

     

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