While the radio industry braces for the full effects of podcasting (reduced time spent listening, competitive content outside of the licensing system etc) they risk missing the newest threat: Pandora. You can try it for no cost until the end of September.

Pandora lets you build your own radio station on the net. You start with one song and Pandora finds and automatically programmes similar songs in that style. That might not sound feasible but the core of Pandora’s offering is a sophisticated database of songs classified according to style. The bottom line is: it works.

Pandora is the best of a new class of “recommendation technologies”. I’d just call it “auto-find”. The business model is subscription; US$38 a year gets you all the music you want. For older, busier users, the idea of hunting around P2P sites to find songs is too time-consuming. Pandora does it all for you in one-twentieth of the time it takes to find tracks, download to your PC, upload to an iPod.

So if you’ve got your computer hooked up to your stereo at home, Pandora is all you need. You get your favourite artists together with a selection of similar tracks, so you still get the surprise-factor inherent in broadcast radio. And for mobile use? Any web-enabled phone. Or, depending on bandwidth costs and battery performance you might be better off with a Wi-Fi MP3 player.

The subscription model is very ugly for the radio industry. Pandora collects the dough, pays the record companies the royalties; who misses out badly? Advertisers and commercial radio stations.

There are strategies they can adopt to protect themselves, but they’d better act fast. Pandora is a great product and word spreads quick these days.


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