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Pandora Absolutely Must Do Better Now

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- While I generally believe Pandora (P) receives a raw deal in the media, from the music industrial complex and, to a lesser extent, the court of public opinion, areas exist where the company not only can, but absolutely must do better.

Believe it or not, I have been a frequent critic of Pandora.

Late last year, I came out against co-founder Tim Westergren's blog post that detailed how much the company pays individual artists in royalties. I tend to agree with the sentiment Westergren expressed, however he picked the wrong time and approach to make his case. For better or worse, it's difficult to overcome the music industrial complex's talking point that Pandora wants artists to take a pay cut. As such, we need more action, fewer words from Pandora.

More recently, I questioned the company's pace and effort vis-a-vis local/indie music promotion in I Can't Find Pandora's Name Anywhere in Hollywood and Does Pandora Do Enough to Promote Local Music?

I have long criticized Pandora's indifference toward selling its subscription option. Turns out I was on the money. After Pandora instituted a 40-hour per month mobile listening cap, subscribers and the attendant revenue soared at unprecedented clips. Subscriptions could, absolutely should and hopefully will become a larger part of the business going forward.

So, make no mistake, I recognize the critical juncture Pandora is at. While I don't agree with the meat of his take, Mark Rogowsky at Forbes makes a point Pandora investors and, more importantly, the company cannot ignore:

The problem for Pandora is that while it can boast of 70 million monthly users, it's a company without any friends. And after years of building a wildly popular service (albeit an unprofitable one), it hasn't gotten any better at making them. The radio-station gambit was typical Pandora. It was having a dispute with ASCAP, which is the Pepsi to BMI's Coke, and decided that it could circumvent the argument -- and pay millions less to boot -- so long as it owned a terrestrial radio station anywhere in the country. Apparently, it concluded this a while ago and was simply waiting for the right time and place to throw this sucker punch.

Now I can nitpick that excerpt. For example, it's never a good idea to go with absolutes such as "it's a company without any friends." Untrue. While there's no question Pandora continues to make enemies, it has friends. Plenty of them. And we can't ignore nuance. More love-hate relationships exist than out-and-out ugly breakups.

Pandora has friends (or "frenimies") at the record labels and elsewhere in the music industry. Pandora Premieres is the latest example of cooperation between "the two sides." And plenty of artists absolutely love Pandora -- despite what music industry propaganda would have us believe. I communicate with some of the smaller ones regularly. I know of a major act who was this close to headlining a Pandora Presents concert series about a year or so ago.

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