Why I’ll Miss Pandora Internet Radio

Yes, I used the old logo. The new one is too desperate to feel new.

With Pandora Media Inc reporting another loss of hundreds of millions, and losing market share to other streaming music competitors, I thought I’d write an ode to Pandora, even as its co-founder remains optimistic publicly.

My Introduction to Pandora

My first exposure to Pandora was from Freakonomics in 2010. I found the notion of an algorithm which adapts to your music tastes and find me similar songs and and expose me to new ones a novel idea.

I gave it a test drive on my desktop PC and fiddled with searching for my favorite genres and stations. Then I started giving the “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on the songs, and that is where the fun began. Pandora’s algorithm worked like a charm as I rated (or did not) each song. They had a great selection, and added new songs every year.

Digital Music Archaeology

Although I started off with my safe and known (yet eclectic) genres, artists, and songs, I explored eventually decades, genres, countries, and artists I had either ignored or never had heard of before. And this is what I will miss the most about Pandora: I learned and grew as a music aficionado. I was being educated and began to appreciate so much more than I had bargained for. My mind had been opened.

Surprise > Control

As someone who grew up listening to AM and FM radio with commercials, I was used to changing stations frequently. As a kid and teen, I was never attached to one genre anyway, as for some reason I had preferred TV show, movie, and video game themes over the pop music of my era.

So Pandora was right up my alley. The5000 mp3s I had hoarded since the late 1990s and having the ability to simply to type in any song in YouTube gave me too much control which lead to musical stagnation and boredom. (Granted I still enjoy playing a song 20 times in repeat mode, something not offered by Pandora.)

A reason why I shy away from other music streaming services is that most offer too much control and not enough surprise and exploration. (I am also a bit of a loyalist in that I don’t just jump to the latest shiny object to satisfy an unrelenting thirst, like millions of people do with apps and services.)

Why Pandora Failed

I do not want to get into the financial details and business plan of the company or even its technical parameters or royalty system. Nor do I want to join the masses who demand the ability to choose songs, download them, and other bells and whistles which allow them to have their cake and eat it- for free, by the way. (That said, those are probably the real reasons.)

But I will point to marketing, buzz,and community interaction- Pandora does not even have official forums. They just have one article from years ago here on Medium. There is an small Pandora subreddit which is loaded with posters who report problems with Android, bugs, but nothing about the music enjoyment itself, or station recommendations.

Pandora’s graphic user interface, search functions, tutorials, and station creation/modifications are not that intuitive (although I had no problem with it, others did). This results in some users not utilizing Pandora to its full potential.

And sure, there are times when Pandora does seem buggy but I don’t want to get bogged down into it here. I am sure that it is a major complaint for one-time users who tried to give the service a spin, but got frustrated.

My teenage Canadian niece and nephews do not even have access to Pandora and I imagine other countries block it as well, due to copyright, royalties, or licensing legal issues. In other words, other music services have a greater reach.

I am not someone who throws money at monthly services to show my support; I need to be compelled to buy something. I am old-school like that. Companies should be following Economics 101 and provide a must-have product or service instead of giving it away for free with no major difference between premium vs free. There needs to be something compelling behind that paywall. Heck, Pandora even allows you to use Ad-Blocker in your browser, which defeats the whole purpose trying to generate revenue from free-loaders such as myself.

The Future

The good news is that even if Pandora goes out of business in late 2017 or 2018, there is a near certain chance that they (or the algorithm) would be acquired by another company, so it would live on, somewhere else. But like many things in life, it will never be the same.

What Do You Think About Pandora?

What are your favorite stations? Which new artists, songs, or genres did you discover? Did you give up or listen daily/weekly? What are your experiences? Do you have suggestions for how Pandora could survive this year?