Social media network imeem recently announced its partnership with EMI Music, which means that EMI’s catalog of music and video is available for streaming on the media sharing service. With this latest announcement, imeem now offers music from three of the “Big Four” in music — Warner Music, Sony/BMG, and EMI — with Universal Music as the final holdout. Steve Jang, imeem’s CMO and head of business development, to whom I spoke yesterday, estimates that imeem has partnered with 75 percent of independent labels as well.
Imeem has built up a presence on the Internet quickly in its year-and-a-half of existence. The site has 18 million users a month and an average of 600,000 new users joining each day. According to comScore, imeem was the fastest growing social site in the US from September 2006 to September 2007, with 1,590 percent growth in the past year. Imeem has also had its share of coverage here at Fast Company among new tech companies to watch. (Click here and here to read the articles.)
As Jang puts it, imeem’s current step is to be “innovative on more progressive content partnerships” with the major record companies. This requires not just being an online store. As the persistence of illegal downloading shows, iTunes on its own doesn’t offer enough of an option for listeners. It’s not just the lure of “getting something for nothing,” which will always remain enticing, it’s that the technology that makes music discovery so exciting often comes without legal legitimacy.
“Subscriptions and downloads aren’t the most intuitive. People don’t necessary want to go to a store to listen to music online,” says Jang. He believes that imeem, with its growing catalog of streaming content, best meets the desires of those seeking a “try before you buy” model for music beyond the radio’s current top 40. iTunes only allows 30-second samples. Services like Rhapsody or Yahoo! Music require a monthly or yearly fee for access, which for many — like me — is well worth being able to listen to and download many songs at once without paying for them individually.
For many others, however, a subscription service doesn’t meet their needs. Access to songs while offline and the ability to sync them to an iPod or MP3 player requires month by month renewal on top of the 79 – 99 cents per song to keep them permanently. For those interested in continual music discovery, chances are there will be a core set of songs or albums they’ll commit to — the rest they’ll only listen to once or twice, or every once in a while, just to test the bounds of their musical tastes. In this case, the better financial strategy may be to pay for certain songs permanently and just sample the rest without a permanent download.
Thanks to sites like Pandora, last.fm, and imeem, this approach is now possible. Last.fm adds on to Pandora’s idea of the “music genome project” — helping listeners find music within their tastes — by adding social networking, thereby enabling its users to gain inspiration for music choices by seeing what others are listening to. Both Pandora and last.fm function as radio, with automate track sequences. On the other hand, imeem allows users to choose specific songs to browse.
Imeem’s offerings thus overlap to a certain extent with both subscription services (the “pay before you play” streaming features) and radio. “I think subscriptions have value for a small section of users,” says Jang. He cites the importance of the ability to sample and download. Regarding the latter, imeem also leads users to iTunes to buy the music they sample on its site. According to Jang, imeem is now iTunes’ #1 partner, and he notes the same collaboration may be possible with subscription services.
And while imeem and radio sites like last.fm both offer free streaming media, their user bases don’t completely overlap either. The difference is basically turning on a customized radio station versus playing your own personal mix. While some may find one better than another, the two operate as slightly different means of discovering new music.
These sites, however, do share another important approach. By offering media free of charge yet playing by the rules, they now invite record labels as partners rather than treating them as foes. This new approach is certainly refreshing, and the fact that imeem has won over all but one of the “Big Four” holds even more promise. But the record companies’ own change of tune is probably the most welcome news of all. “They get that social networking is here to stay, and they want to tap into that,” says Jang. “They’re saying, ‘Why don’t we join the force?'”
Related Fast Company article:
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