We’ve been a big fan of mobbler, the Symbian S60 client for last.fm, which allows you to scrobble your tracks (record what you have listened to), and also access and play last.fm radio streams. However, this week, last.fm have made two statements which may not help mobbler…
Firstly, due to the lack of an established ad business, last.fm have found it difficult to find advertisers to cover their costs outside of 3 main countries, UK, USA and Germany, and hence all subscribers outside of those countries will need to subscribe and pay €3 per month for access what will remain the “free” service here in the UK.
However, the key issue is their second announcement, which signals the end of 3rd party clients using unofficial API calls to access the streamed music. These old APIs will be switched off (potentially by the end of next week) and new music streaming APIs will be used instead. These new APIs are available to developers to use within their clients, so, unlike some news reports, last.fm are not preventing 3rd party clients from working, simply ensuring that they use the right code to access the streams. There are 2 key points:
Firstly, only subscribers will be able to stream music, unless the developer of the client enters into a specific deal with last.fm
Secondly, last.fm have said that their license prevents the streams being streamed to mobile phones.
Ironically, further clarification seemed to have muddied the water even further. last.fm have stated that this decision is not “set in stone” (which seems bizarre if it’s a licensing issue). Also, last.fm official Android and iPhone/iPod Touch clients do not seem to be affected by this. Finally, they have confirmed that the Nokia N810 Internet Tablet, as it is does not contain a SIM card, is not affected, and the 3rd party client Vagalume will still be ok (presumably if it supports the new API). What’s odd about this is that a common method of connecting the N810 to the Internet is via Bluetooth and a mobile phone, so ironically, you will be able to listen to last.fm on an N810 whilst out and about, but won’t be able to listen via your Nokia E71 using Wi-Fi at home (as it’s a device issue, not the actual network connection)…
last.fm need to reconsider this; limiting music streaming to paying subscribers should help ensure a steady revenue model to cover the costs of paying royalties, and allow all users to continue to enjoy the music they want to listen to.
It should be pointed out that there are other 3rd party clients affected, the Pocket Scrobbler on Windows Mobile and FlipSide on the BlackBerry will also be affected. However, neither the Vodafone S60 last.fm client nor 3UK‘s INQ1 phone will be affected, as these only supported scrobbling (which remains free and unchanged) and had no music streaming support.
Update: last.fm have now stated “I’m working with third-party mobile client authors at the moment, and I’m fairly confident that we can allow them to use the new API in mobile mode for subscribers” and “I am working to make sure that existing mobile clients like Mobbler will get grandfathered in”, and last.fm have re-confirmed that only paying subscribers will be able to stream music; why they didn’t simply state this, along with the change in API we don’t know, instead of announcing and now, in essence, withdrawing their statements over mobile phone streaming.