Correction: iMeem said it erred in stating some of the financial costs of its new fee structure. The corrected prices are below.
Social-networking site iMeem has always been known as an ad-supported service, which means visitors have never had to pay for anything. That appears to be changing.
For iMeem users who once uploaded hundreds or even thousands of songs, videos, and photos to the site without paying a dime, iMeem has quietly rolled out a new fee structure. And that has irked some people.
Founded in October 2004, iMeem is a social-networking site that focuses on music and enables users to upload songs to share with friends and the iMeem community. The service is perhaps best known for streaming music--free of charge--to visitors' PCs. (Streaming music is still offered for free).
What's changed is that the company has begun charging people who upload more than 100 songs and 10 videos. People who pay the $29.99 can upload up to 1,000 songs and 100 videos a year, according to an iMeem spokeswoman. Those who pay $100, can upload a maximum of 20,000 songs and 500 videos.
All of the packages still allow for unlimited number of photos.
The new price increases have dismayed some fans of iMeem.
"Some of the people I invited to iMeem (because I told them: 'Hey, it's so much better than YouTube') are thinking about leaving iMeem now," according to one person who posted on iMeem's message board. "I don't (know) what to say. I used to invite everybody to iMeem because it was so much better than YouTube... I don't know if I should keep saying: '(iMeem) is better than YouTube.'"
Gina Olsen, an iMeem spokeswoman, said that the company is always looking to generate revenue while at the same time improving the site for visitors. "We will continue to experiment with new monetization opportunities if they add to the user experience," she said. "Other examples of this include links to MP3 downloads, ringtones, and e-commerce on iMeem."
That's PR speak and the translation is that the company needs to start making money. Privately held iMeem is one of those tech companies that began with some intriguing features (free streaming music) but has seen competitors match its better services.
MySpace Music, the joint venture formed by all four of the largest music labels and News Corp., has begun offering streaming music to its much larger audience. In addition, MySpace Music offers downloads, via Amazon.com.
In a down economy, look for iMeem and similar smaller digital music services to ask more from users than in the past. Internet radio station Pandora has recently begun inserting audio ads into streaming music. Even the mighty iTunes, with its 70 percent market share of the download market, has announced a price hike on hit songs. (Prices on catalog music have actually come down.)
One thing should be noted: iMeem's new pricing structure was not required by the big music labels. According to two of my music sources, iMeem's deal with the top recording companies is unchanged and there are no special requirements for uploads. This is iMeem's decision.