The Turntable.fm bug hit me hard about a month ago. Suddenly I was wasting hours DJing alongside my friends, hoarding points to upgrade my avatar and building a big database of cool music that I’d never heard before. All the while, my friends and I asked the same question: Where’s the Turntable.fm smartphone app?
Now, TechCrunch reports that a Turntable.fm iPhone app is coming soon, and the site has a handful of screenshots to prove it. (Co-founder Billy Chasen seems to have confirmed the rumor, writing in the comments that “We were saving this as a surprise for [TechCrunch's Disrupt conference] when I’m on stage.”)
That’s great news, but it also makes me wonder whether the free ride on this very cool music service is coming to an end.
At the moment, Turntable.fm costs nothing to use. Its entire library of millions of songs can be listened to for free, with no time limits or restrictions on skipping tracks, as long as one other user is taking turns being the DJ. And I’ve never seen a single advertisement on the website.
That’s not to say Turntable.fm isn’t paying to deliver music to users. Although Turntable.fm argues that it doesn’t have to make deals with record labels, it still has to pay music composers for performance rights, and has already signed deals with ASCAP and BMI. There’s also no guarantee that record labels won’t start arguing for direct licensing deals. The legality of the service depends on Turntable’s interpretation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, as All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka points out. And in any case, Turntable will eventually want to make money for itself.
The launch of an iPhone app seems like a good opportunity for Turntable.fm to start thinking about revenue. So I wonder: Will it require a subscription? Will we suddenly see restrictions on desktop listening, akin to Pandora’s 40-hour per month limit? And will Turntable.fm offer some kind of membership with other perks, like higher quality streams and exclusive avatars? I’m guessing many of these questions will come up next week. I’m interested to hear Turntable’s answers.