Pandora is the Internet’s most successful subscription radio service. As of June 2013, it had over 200 million registered users (140 million of which access the service via a mobile device) and over 70 million active listeners. Pandora now accounts for more than 70% of all Internet radio listening hours and a 7% share of total U.S. radio listening (both traditional and Internet). At Pandora, users select a genre of music based on a favorite musician, and a computer algorithm puts together a personal radio station that plays not only the music of the selected artist but also closely related music by different artists. A team of professional musicians listens to new songs each day and classifies the music according to more than 400 musical criteria including male or female vocal, electric vs. acoustical guitar, distortion of instruments, presence of background vocals, strings, and various other instruments. These criteria are used in a computer algorithm to classify new songs into five genres: Pop/Rock, Hip-Hop/Electronica, Jazz, World Music, and Classical. Within each of these genres are hundreds of sub-genres. Like Taylor Swift? Create a radio station on Pandora with Taylor Swift as the artist and you can listen all day not only to some Taylor Swift tracks but also to musically related artists such as Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts, Anna Nalick, and others. Pandora’s founders, Will Glaser and Tim Westergren, launched Pandora in 2005. Their biggest challenge was how to make a business out of a totally new kind of online radio station when competing online stations were making music available for free, many without advertising, and online subscription services were streaming music for a monthly fee and finding some advertising support as well. Online music illegally downloaded from P2P networks for free was also a significant factor, as was iTunes, which by 2005 was a roaring success, charging 99 cents a song with no ad support, and 20 million users at that time. The idea of a “personal” radio station playing your kind of music was very new. Facing stiff odds, Pandora’s first business model was to give away 10 hours of free access, and then ask subscribers to pay $36 a month for a year after they used up their free 10 hours. The result: 100,000 people listened to their 10 hours for free and then refused to use their credit cards to pay for the annual Facing financial collapse, in November 2005 Pandora introduced an ad-supported option. Subscribers could listen to a maximum of 40 hours of music in a calendar month for free. After the 40 hours were used up, subscribers had three choices: (a) pay 99 cents for the rest of the month, (b) sign up for a premium service offering unlimited usage, or (c) do nothing. If they chose (c), the music would stop, but users could sign up again the next month. The ad-supported business model was a risky move because Pandora had no ad server or accounting system, but it attracted so many users that in a few weeks they had a sufficient number of advertisers (including Apple) to pay for their infrastructure. In 2006, Pandora added a “Buy” button to each song being played and struck deals with Amazon, iTunes, and other online retail sites. Pandora now gets an affiliate fee for directing listeners to Amazon where users can buy the music. In 2008, Pandora added an iPhone app to allow users to sign up from their smartphones and listen all day if they wanted. This added 35,000 new users a day. By 2009, this “free” ad-supported model had attracted 20 million users. All of Pandora’s plans come with restrictions required by the music companies that own the music, including the inability to hear a song on demand, no replay, and a skip limit of six skips per hour per station. Also, the music cannot be used commercially or outside the United States. After struggling for years showing nothing but losses, threatened by the music companies who wanted to raise their Internet radio rates, Pandora finally had some breathing room. Still not giving up on its premium service, in late 2009, the company Still not giving up on its premium service, in late 2009, the company launched Pandora One, a premium service that offered no advertising, higher quality stream- ing music, a desktop app, and fewer usage limits. The service cost $36 a year. By July 2010, Pandora had 600,000 subscribers to its premium service, about 1% of its then 60 million users. Pandora reported $55 million in annual revenue for 2009 and $137 million for 2010. Pandora’s “new” business model proved so successful that it went public in June 2011. Revenues again doubled in 2011, to $274 million, and in 2012, to $427 million with about 88% ($375 million) coming from advertising and the remainder from subscriptions and other sources. However, Pandora has not yet shown a profit, and does face competition from services such as Spotify, which also is using the freemium strategy. Pandora is an example of the “freemium” business revenue model. The model is based on giving away some services for free to 99% of the customers, and relying on the other 1% of the customers to pay for premium versions of the same service. As Chris Anderson, author of Free: The Future of a Radical Price, has pointed out, since the marginal cost of digital products is typically close to zero, providing free product does not cost much, and potentially enables you to reach many more people, and if the market is very large, even getting just 1% of that market to purchase could be very lucrative. There are many other examples of successful freemium model companies. For many traditional print media like newspapers and magazines, the freemium model may be their path to survival. But it won’t work for every online business. While it clearly has worked for Pandora, there is ongoing debate among e-com- merce CEOs and venture capitalists about the effectiveness of the freemium model. The crux of the issue is that while freemium can be an efficient way to gather a large group of potential customers, companies have found that it’s a challenge to convert eyeballs into those willing to pay. Absent subscriber revenue, firms need to rely on advertising revenues. MailChimp’s story is both a success and a cautionary tale. The company lets anyone send e-mail newsletters to customers, manage subscriber lists, and track the performance of an e-mail marketing campaign. Despite the powerful tools it gives marketers, and its open applications programming interface, after 10 years in business, the company had only 85,000 paid subscribers. In 2009, CEO Ben Chestnut decided that it was time to implement new strategies to attract additional customers. MailChimp began giving away its basic tools and charg- ing subscription fees for special features. The concept was that as those customers’ e-mail lists grew, they would continue using MailChimp and be willing to pay for enhanced services. These services included more than just the ability to send e-mails to a greater number of people. Clients would pay to use sophisticated analytics to help them target their e-marketing campaigns more efficiently and effectively. In just over a year, MailChimp went from 85,000 to 450,000 users. E-mail volume went from 200 million a month to around 700 million. Most importantly, the number of paying customers increased more than 150%, while profit increased more than 650%! Sounds great, but there was also a price to pay. Although the company also saw a significant increase in abuse of its system, they developed an algorithm that has helped them to find and eliminate spammers using their service. For MailChimp, freemium has been worth the price. It currently supports more than 3 million subscribers worldwide, sending 35 billion e-mails a year. However, Ning, a company that enables users to create their own social networks, tried freemium and came to a different conclusion. They abandoned it in July 2010. Marc Andreessen, co-author of Mosaic, the first Web browser, and founder of Netscape, launched Ning in 2004. With his assistance, the company has raised $119 million in funding. Despite being the market’s leading social network infrastructure platform, Ning was having a common problem—converting eyeballs into paying customers. While 13% of customers were paying for some premium services, the revenue was not enough. The more free users Ning acquired, the more it cost the company. In May 2010, Ning announced the impending end of the freemium model. The company shed staff, going from 167 to 98, and began using 100% of its resources to capture premium users. Since shifting to a three-tier paid subscription model, Ning has experienced explosive growth, increasing the number of paying customers from 17,000 to more than 100,000 and growing revenue by more than 500%. By September 2011, Ning had more than 100 million registered user social profiles and its social networks reached more than 60 million monthly unique users. In December 2011, Ning was acquired by Glam Media, a leading social media company, for $200 million. In March 2013, Glam relaunched Ning as a personal blogging platform for brands and individuals to bring all of their social media followers together in one place. This version of Ning will attempt to intertwine content publishing with community. Glam intends to charge users a fee, rather than returning to a free or freemium strategy. Sense when the product is easy to use and has a very large potential audience, prefer- ably in the millions. A solid customer value proposition is critical. It’s helpful if a large user network increases the perceived value of the product (i.e., a dating service). Freemium may work when a company has good long-term customer retention rates and the product produces more value over time. An extremely important part of the equation is that the variable costs of providing the product or service to additional customers for free must be low. For example, Evernote, a personal note-taking service, added freemium to its business model and has since grown its user base to over 65 million, adding about 100,000 users a day. The company has over 1.4 million paying users. Evernote reportedly has a conversion rate of about 3.7%, which is considered to be quite high in the freemium business world. Evernote has also discovered that the longer a subscriber remains an active user, the more likely he or she is to convert to a premium subscription. For instance, 12% of those who continue to use Evernote for at least two years become premium subscribers. Evernote currently is taking in about $75–$80 million in revenues and has raised over $250 million in funding, the most recent round of which has valued the company at $1 billion, clear proof that the freemium model can add tremendous value. Companies also face challenges in terms of what products and/or services to offer for free versus what to charge for (this may change over time), the cost of sup- porting free customers, and how to price premium services. Further, it is difficult to predict attrition rates, which are highly variable at companies using freemium. So, while freemium can be a great way to get early users and to provide a company with a built-in pool for upgrades, it’s tough to determine how many users will be willing to pay and willing to stay. A freemium strategy makes sense for companies such as Pandora, where there is a very low marginal cost, approaching zero, to support free users. It also makes sense for a company where the value to its potential customers depends on a large network, like Facebook. Freemium also works when a business can be supported by the percentage of customers who are willing to pay, like Evernote and Pandora, especially when there are other revenues like affiliate and advertising fees that can make up for shortfalls in subscriber revenues. Freemium has also become the standard model for most apps, with over 75% of the top 100 apps in Apple's app store using a freemium strategy.
Case Study Question
Describe the problem and its business impact.
Describe the problem and its business impact.
Pandora provides its clients private Internet radio stations. Pandora grants his customers this redid radio free of charge. In tandem of different corporate models, Pandora has successfully implemented the freemium operating model in which 99 percent of its customers receive free assistance and 1 percent of customers pay for premium administrations.
This business model is not appropriate for each form of business, but with an organized execution process and away from customer esteems can be successful for other types of companies. Breaking down Pandora 's achievement provides details all together on the necessary prerequisites for a company to receive a profit using the Freemium market model.
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