Dear Rdio: I Like You. Please Don’t Die.

When it comes to streaming music services, I seem to have a deadly touch. I'm worried that Rdio, of which I became a paid user in December, may be the next one to fall.

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Jared Newman / TIME.com

When it comes to streaming music services, I seem to have a deadly touch.

The first victim was Napster–not the original, copyright-infringing version, but the legitimate, Best Buy-owned version that offered free monthly MP3 downloads plus unlimited streaming music. Napster couldn’t find a business model that stuck, and in late 2011 Rhapsody gobbled up Napster’s subscribers and shut the service down for good. By then, I’d already jumped from Napster to MOG, which is technically still alive but floundering. MOG’s new owner, Beats Electronics, is now building its own streaming service with Beats branding. The fate of MOG is unclear, but it doesn’t look good for the service as we know it.

I’m worried that Rdio, of which I became a paid user in December, may be the next one to fall. On Tuesday, the company announced that it’s expanding its free streaming service to more countries, but with similar limitations as before: Rdio lets you stream free music for “up to” six months, depending on how many songs you listen to. A meter at the top of the screen provides a vague sense of how much free music you have left. Once you reach the limit, it costs $5 per month for web access, or $10 per month to use Rdio’s mobile apps.

It’s hard to look at that model and see how it’ll draw users away from Spotify, which is clearly winning the on-demand streaming war. Spotify’s free service has ads, but no listening limits. (Technically, Spotify had a six month limit, but extended its unlimited offering indefinitely last March.)

That offer of free, unlimited music, without the anxiety of a depleting meter, has been a pretty effective lure for Spotify. As TechCrunch notes, Spotify boasts more than 20 million users, more than half of whom stay connected to the app through Facebook. Rdio, by comparison, won’t reveal actual user numbers, but with only 100,000-plus active users on Facebook, it’s clearly far behind the leader.

I don’t know if Rdio can be saved, but like Napster and MOG, it’s another service that doesn’t deserve the scrap heap.

rdioapp

Rdio

Rdio’s software is its greatest asset. The design is stellar, both on the web and in its mobile apps, with just enough white space and some clever design consistencies across platforms that make its apps very easy to use. It also has some neat features: Start listening to a playlist on your computer, and your phone will automatically pick up where you left off (if you’re paying $10 per month for mobile access, that is). Your phone can also act as a remote control for Rdio on your computer, with no additional software or setup required. You can even use Rdio’s desktop website to sync songs to your mobile devices, so they’re ready to play offline.

Best of all–and this is where Spotify drives me crazy by comparison–you can create an iTunes-like “collection” of favorite artists and songs. With Spotify, playlists and an unorganized list of favorite tracks are your only means of organization, so it’s harder to listen to full albums and to quickly access favorite artists.

Rdio isn’t perfect; my biggest complaint is that its music selection is lacking compared to some other services. But I think its design and features make up for what its library lacks.

The problem is that people won’t realize any of this unless they actually use Rdio in earnest. And they won’t do that if it feels too much like a trial. Next to Spotify, that’s how everything short of unlimited listening feels.

At this point, though, it feels kind of cheap to just say that Rdio should mimic Spotify’s business model. I’m sure the company’s considered it, and there’s no guarantee it would even work. So instead I’ll just say this: If you have any inklings toward paying for streaming music, think about giving Rdio a shot first. Maybe you’ll like it better than the competition, and together we can save another good streaming service from meeting its maker.

4 comments
danlang
danlang

I feel the same. I experience a frequent frustration because the huge majority of my friends all use Spotify (or something similar) because it's free. I've been extremely impressed with Rdio's interface, and--as you said--the ability to create a virtual collection of music. I use playlists occasionally, but the need to re-search Spotify (or to create a playlist for every artist/album) for music is frustrating and obnoxious. 


That being said, they definitely do "free" better than Rdio. 


All that being said, I've actually been considering going "old school" and buying MP3s again, because I've discovered I have a tendency to listen to the same albums over and over and over again, and I feel like I'm wasting my money to some extent--but I do love the ability to listen to just about anything I want, anywhere, anytime (well, mostly). 


Either way though, I'd still like to see Rdio succeed. Though I would like to see them add the ability to search just within my "collection" on my phone like you can on the desktop app. 

Mspikes
Mspikes

I feel the same about Rdio. I've been a subscriber of it for more than 2 years now, choosing it over Spotify for it's software, and it's far superior ability to allow me to discover music through other people that I don't know, due to the fact that my musical tastes don't match up with the people that I actually know. I use the service pretty regularly, and even signed my younger sister up for a subcription under the discount ($17.99/month for 2 instead of $9.99 for each). We both love it. 

Yes, the selection isn't as large as I'd like it to be, but the stuff that I can't listen to on Rdio, I can usually find on my iPod  (which I still have), or will purchase through the iTunes music store. Although I didn't love the redesign of the software--the iOS version just looks more like the android version that I slogged through when trying out a Samsung Note--and I wish that the music could be sorted in more ways than just artist name -- (sometimes I just wanna hear a mix of songs of a certain genre--ala Pandora), I still think it's far superior than Spotify. 

andmalc
andmalc

I'm a happy Rdio subscriber.  $10/month for the web+mobile service seems reasonable to me - after all, if we don't pay how are the artists going to get anything (and they don't get much: see a New York Times article about this yesterday).  They don't have all the music I want but I have to be searching for a very new release or something completely obscure for them not to have it..  Also, the remote control mode is very cool.

CanBekar
CanBekar

I actually hope the same for last.fm at least for a couple of years now. But a month ago they cancelled it's streaming services in my country and then I had to unsubscribe. 

The thing is, I think that (although I never actually used) rdio's design and software becomes a secondary issue when it is compared to 50K scrobbles (listening history) in my last.fm account and the last.fm recommendation engine working on top of it... It is actually a better asset than a perfect design. 

And lastly, their new iphone and mac scrobblers are awesome.