Pandora: A Case Study on the True Price of Bad Marketing



After taking a break from Pandora for about a year and a half, I recently dove back in, and I’m loving it.They do a far better job of picking music I like than competitors like Slacker and Last FM. Despite the quality of Pandora’s service, I might still wander away from them again. Not because I don’t care for the service or the company, but because they have made it difficult to just keep listening. 

Each month, Pandora offers its listeners 40 hours of of music, complete with commercial interruptions. Once your time’s up, you have two choices; spend $0.99 to keep listening to Pandora with commercials, or pay $36 to subscribe to Pandora One for a year of commercial free music. That’s it, there are no other options. Either way, I have to stop what I’m doing when my time is up, and evaluate whether I want to spend a dollar to keep the commercials music flowing, or whether I want to spend $36 for a year’s worth of service. The first time Pandora presented me with this choice, I chose the super secret third option – I stopped listening to Pandora and switched to a service that wouldn’t force a financial decision on me in the middle of my work day.

I didn’t stop listening because Pandora wanted my money – they provide a service, and they do a damned fine job of it, and as such, I’m happy to pay up. What put me off was the hassle of stopping what I was doing, entering my credit card information, and processing the transaction. It was much easier to pop open Slacker and move on with my day.

There’s no excuse for interrupting my day with a request for money. Pandora could adopt any number of customer friendly billing options that would allow their customers to keep listening without interruption. They could offer a $12 per year plan that gives their customers unlimited access music (with commercial interruptions of course), or they could give users the option of automatically accepting the $0.99 fee when their free time expires. Or, hey, why not offer a $5 per month version of their Pandora One service that gets billed automatically? Any of these options would be preferable to forcing the customer into a financial decision on the spot, and any of those options would have kept me listening for the last year and a half.

Nobody wants to be put on the spot, but that’s exactly what Pandora’s marketing team does each time one of their customer’s 40 hours is up. I’m sure I’m not the only Pandora customer who feels put off by this marketing tactic, and I’m also sure I’m not the only one who switched services rather than going through the hassle of paying them on the spot. But hey, I’m just one person – what do you think about Pandora’s billing practices?

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