Last.fm’s three founders, Martin Stiksel, Felix Miller and Richard Jones, are leaving the business to concentrate on new projects, two years after it was bought out by media giant CBS.
The music recommendation site, which works by using social media and a database of all its users’ preferences, became the most financially successful to date when it sold for £142m in May 2007 - the highest amount ever paid for a UK web startup.
What gives Last.fm its particular value is its potential to expand into other media, thanks to the idea underpinning it that user preferences and user-generated recommendations drive the whole thing. It has sparked up some notable partnerships recently too – its ‘Last.fm in a box’ application features on iGoogle, Bebo and Facebook among numerous others, and its iPhone app has proven similarly popular. It’s also recently moved into ‘visual radio’ and has struck deal with Xbox to be distributed through the games console as well.
Founders Martin, Felix and Richard will stay on for another few months to ensure a smooth takeover transition when a new head arrives, but in a more advisory than active role. The two year period since the buyout is not unusual - many acquisition contracts have a clause such as this written in to ensure an easy transition, although the founders haven't made any mention of this being the case.
But it wouldn't be surprising if they were feeling the new uber-corporate intentions of their new owner slightly out of synch with their own objectives (although that's not to say they aren't commercially driven - they did accept a whopping great buy-out deal, after all). Last.fm began much more humbly than its mega-buy-out might suggest. Its website explains:
“Back in the 20th Century, Felix Miller and Martin Stiksel were running an online record label whose mission was to get independent music out to the people who wanted to hear it. A few years later, university student Richard Jones started tracking what he and his friends were listening to on their computers with a project he called Audioscrobbler. Last.fm brought these ideas and desires together. Luckily, these days it's about letting people choose the music themselves - rather than subjecting the world to Felix's music taste (or we'd all be listening to Elvis and Japanese surf garage). Last.fm has always been about making music culture more democratic: everyone listening to music how they want to, when they want to. Without a middle man making your decisions for you.”
No doubt these power-to-the-people sentiments that put love of a subject before hard-nosed commerciality, plus the east-London-living-room origins, are what have made the site so popular among its millions of fans – now at an all time high of 37.3 million unique visitors per month.
But its CBS’s influence as a mass media influencer and its financial and marketing resource that’ll really take Last.fm to the big time, we suspect – the site’s users have doubled in the last year under the control of the new owner.
Let’s hope the media don can keep upping the site’s popularity without jeopardising the integrity and democracy-of-music ideas that draw in its fans.
Here’s a few words from the founders, in a joint statement posted on their website: “This is the latest stage in a long journey for us founders, which began in a living room in East London in 2002, and took us to the headquarters of one of the biggest media companies in the world.
“It’s been a privilege working with the incredible team here in our London office, and we’re extremely proud of what we’ve achieved together.”
They go on to thank the site’s users for everything they have contributed to the site.
We haven’t heard yet what the founders have got in the pipeline for their next project, or whether they’re just planning on kicking back on a secluded Caribbean island somewhere, but we wish them the best of luck and secretly hope they go on to produce more products as exciting and disruptive as Last.fm has proved to be.