Though the user reaction was mostly positive in this case, it was tempered with a wariness that the acquisition might lead to changes in the Last.fm service. From the Last.fm user forums, came this comment:
"Why do I have the feeling it's downhill all the way from now on :( Time to pull all my stats and find someone to write this kind of site again"
Last.fm promised that their "approach to privacy won't change" as a result of being sold to CBS.The complaints from those skeptical of the sale generally fell into two categories: those worried about privacy and those fearful that CBS would commercialize the site and stuff it full of DRM. On the privacy fears,
A common theme among those expressing doubts or anger about the sale was that CBS would turn a lovely independent site into a 24 hour commercial for CBS properties. From the forum again:
"Please don't let it happen. Please don't start pushing the CBS brand or signed artists or anything else 'corporate'. Please, just remain unbiased and agnostic."
The fears are, perhaps, not unfounded. When CBS launched CBS Records last year, their only other foray into music except radio, they said they planned to push music from the label's artists in CBS-produced television shows. And CBS CEO Les Moonves said Last.fm would be used to "to attract younger viewers and listeners across our businesses."
For some users, that kind of language brings to mind images of ads for CBS TV shows plastered all over the site and preferential treatment given to CBS Records artists. Luckily for Last.fm users, CBS Records only has four artists.
Then there were the users who were upset, but misinformed. "You cannot argue [that] CBS/Viacom is a good company when it is evident they do not appreciate free media (constant suits against Google/YouTube)," said one. Actually, CBS and Viacom are separate companies (though the same parent controls majority stakes in each), and CBS has a content partnership with YouTube.
So what can we learn from this? I found it interesting that the comments were far more positive on Last.fm's blog than on their forum. In the forum there was little presence from Last.fm staff (and even less from Last.fm's founders), whereas on their blog the comments immediately followed a post (obviously) in which Last.fm founder Richard Jones assured people that things would stay the same. Takeaway? Users have vivid imaginations, so keep them in the loop.
I think it's also important to respond to comments, both negative and positive, in a tactful and level headed manner. On the Last.fm blog, when one user expressed fears that CBS might push ads into the music streams on Last.fm's Internet radio service in order to squeeze more money out of the site, Richard Jones responded quickly: "Regarding the ads in the stream - we have no plans to do this." But on the forums, when a user predicted that Last.fm would turn into a marketing vehicle for CBS, a website employee responded sarcastically: "I'm glad you're familiar with such intimate details of our business plan in order to make your decision..." That comment wasn't well received by the poster of the original concern. Takeaway? Shouting matches with your users are never a good idea.
How do you think the sale of Last.fm to CBS will affect Last.fm's users?