As traffic to Pandora continues to climb at an impressive rate, far more steep than that of competitor Last.fm as seen in the chart above, the popular custom internet radio provider may be a breath away from closing its doors. Why, you might ask? The answer is not very far from being obvious these days. Wherever there is an emerging revolution in the realm of music consumption, loved by many yet still on the brink of defeat; the RIAA is never far from the scene. Pandora’s current woes fit the mold precisely. Pandora usage is at all all-time high and usage increased by almost two million visits per month from June to July alone, yet elevated royalty rates are making it nearly impossible for the company to stay afloat. After last year’s decision that internet radio provider per-song royalty rates would double there has been an ongoing battle between providers and SoundExchange, an unincorporated division of the RIAA tasked with collecting royalties from digital providers such as satellite and internet radio. The decision determined that the rate would increase incrementally from .08¢ per song per listener in 2006 to .19¢ per song per listener by 2010. While tiny fractions of a penny seem insignificant, they add up quickly. Pandora projects that it will pay out about $17 million this year, or a staggering 70% of its revenue, in royalties. Long story short, it is losing money. The problem is even worse for smaller internet radio providers, where increased royalty rates are expected to amount to between 100% and 300% of annual revenues. Translation: By way of SoundExchange and lawmaker support, the RIAA would rather wipe internet radio off the map with outrageous royalty rates than find a fair way to make some money for its clients (labels and, theoretically, musicians). Why is that? There is no way for us to say but as per-song performance royalties are positioned to wipe internet radio off the map, it should be noted that terrestrial radio pays no such fees.
Tim Westergren, Founder of Pandora, had this to say to the Washington Post:
We’re funded by venture capital. They’re not going to chase a company whose business model has been broken. So if it doesn’t feel like its headed towards a solution, we’re done.