As expected, Google unveiled its Music store and the expansion of its cloud service—it's pulling out all the stops to compete with the leader, Apple's iTunes. Google has three of the four music labels on board—Sony, Universal, and EMI—all but Warner Music. Now consumers will be able to purchase millions of songs via music.google.com and through the Android market, with 90 second free previews.
And Google Music—which allows you to upload your entire library and stream or download it to any device—is now a free service open to everyone, despite Google's warnings that it would be a premium service. In direct competition with Apple's iTunes Cloud Service and Amazon's Cloud Drive , both of which charge a fee after a certain storage amount, Google's offering storage of up to 20,000 songs for free.
Perhaps most notable are some unique sharing capabilities. When consumers buy a song they'll be able to share the song to their circle of friends on Google+. (Full free tracks only go to people who you've added to your Circles, if they're just following you, they just get a sample). They'll be able to listen to the song—the whole song—for free. This should drive real adoption of the social platform, since Google+ users will be able to listen without clicking away from their Google+ news stream. This obviously complicates licensing agreements—the labels would like to be paid every time a song is played, and would prefer not to give away tracks to Circles of friends. My sources tell me it's this issue that's slowing down negotiations with Warner Music.
One big surprise: Google is offering exclusive tracks from big artists—The Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Busta Rhymes, Shakira, Pearl Jam, and Dave Matthews Band. Even more impressive—some of the exclusive content will be free only on Google Music. And we aren't talking about no-name artists—The Rolling Stones will release 6 live concert albums, never released before, over the next year. Google also stressed the fact that it's including all sorts of original content, like interviews with artists—it played one with Coldplay during the presentation.
Google is also offering special tools for self-released artists—making the service an updated version of what MySpace used to offer bands. "Artist Hub" will allow artists to distribute music, set their own prices, upload original content, and connect with fans. Artists just have to pay a one-time $25 fee to submit music. This is very different from how Apple interacts with independent artists. This could bring Google its fair share of headaches—like copyright issues for 'covers' of other songs—but could also make the service the go-to destination for all things indie music.
And Google is taking a different tactic than Apple by teaming with a service provider—T-mobile customers can pay for songs on their phone bills. That'll allow people who don't have credit cards—like teenagers—to buy music.
Google's taking on Apple and Amazon head-to-head, fighting for a piece of digital download market share. But in that Google really stresses the social component, it's also competing with streaming startups like Spotify and Rdio, which really put 'social' front and center. I spoke to Rdio's CEO, who tells me that that the company is really built on the idea that music is meant to be shared. He described Rdio as including a sort of 'Twitter' service, but just for music. Google is the first digital download service to with 'sharing' at its heart. We'll see if that drives sales, or if people just enjoy hearing their friends' music for free. I'd predict that at very least it'll grow the amount of time people spend on Google+.
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