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Hey Pandora: I'd pay even more than 99 cents for DJs

Everybody’s breathing a sigh of relief now that Sound Exchange has released its new and more affordable performance royalty rates for webcasting. And the biggest exhale is blowing in the direction of Pandora “internet radio,” as it calls itself. “Pandora Lives!” is the victory cry du jour.

Pandora is being a bit more circumspect than its fan club. The service’s Tim Westergren says on the company’s blog that the revised rates are still “quite high – higher in fact than any other form of radio.” And so the company is going to make an “adjustment”:

“Specifically, we are going to begin limiting listening to 40 hours per month on the free version of Pandora. In any given month, a listener who hits this limit can then opt for unlimited listening for the remainder of that month for just $0.99. In essence, we’re asking our heaviest users to put a dollar (well, almost a dollar) in the tip jar in any month in which they listen over 40 hours. We hope this is relatively painless and affordable—the same price as a single song download.”

So far the response on the blogosphere has been sympathetic. Epicenter is running a reader poll—”Would You Pay 99 Cents per Month for Unlimited Pandora?” As of this posting the vote has been 437 to 106 in favor.

I voted yes on the poll, but I’m already wondering if I really would. Right now I listen to Pandora a lot. Heck, I listen to it on my Blackberry. But I don’t really experience Pandora as radio. I classify it as juke box. Like a lot of online services, it’s a headless dispenser of music. Don’t get me wrong here. I like juke box. I think that Pandora is a terrific headless dispenser of music.

But I miss DJs—you know, those people who talked to you, kept you company, told stories, were funny and witty, reported the news, read commercials in a sort of cute (“oh well, I gotta read this commercial”) sort of way. Many commercial radio stations have dumped them. There are still some around, but they’re mostly these lame “morning zoo” kind of guys and gals.

As for the Internet, the model is mostly juke box. I mean yes, there’s podcasting, but it’s not live. The dominant model is live365, which, again, calls itself “Internet radio” but is in fact just more juke box.

So somebody with a lot of presence on the Internet has to start setting an example, and slowly but surely bring back the DJ. I say Pandora is the prime candidate. Of course, it’s complicated because the service lets its users choose what they want to hear, rather than on air hosts. But Pandora could experiment with a hybrid model—start with a single pop oriented theme in which the users influence the process by popular demand, and the DJ makes some choices herself.

I’d pay more than 99 cents a month for that.

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