Google Music: Who Cares?
Everyone by now has prognosticated on what the new Google music service will look like. It was going to be a subscription service, then it wasn’t, instead looking to acquire a service like Spotify, but that never was on the cards. It was going to allow users to share playlists. They supposedly want users to be able to play every song on their service once in its entirety for free. All fine ideas, but nothing groundbreaking.
The new Google music service, whatever it is and whenever it launches, probably is going to be pretty boring. I’m hearing that it’s stacking up to be a download store with a locker service. Nothing really exciting or groundbreaking. Sure it will have tight integration with Android and that’s all well and good. Some interesting things could be done. But people tend to forget that Google doesn’t necessarily make fantastic consumer products and everything Google isn’t always a home run. Should I remind you of Buzz and Wave? And they haven’t really proven themselves to be terrific online retailers. The Nexus One retail experiment didn’t go so well.
One of the problems is that Google products, when first released, tend to be a little too techie for the average user. The engineers seem to smooth out the experience in later iterations over time. But they don’t always provide the greatest user experience. That’s the big edge that iTunes has, and people are used to it. It’s the industry standard. Sure Google music will take a bite of market share, but most likely out of everyone else’s ass, not Apple’s.
I also hear that Google hasn’t really gotten their act together and they don’t have the kind of team that could make waves in the industry. Basically they’re nothing but pushovers for the record labels, ready to throw tens of millions of dollars at them. The labels, of course, care about nothing but a quick windfall and will be very coy in trying to milk every last dime out of Google. They see deep pockets and aren’t going to let them go unpicked. They’re sort of like those thugs in Mexico and South America who target and kidnap executives of major American corporations for millions in ransom.
Google doesn’t seem to understand that they have the upper hand. The industry needs them more than they need the music industry. Labels have the insane concept that Google will rescue them from Apple like Fay Wray in the grip of King Kong. The labels’ lawyers are going to have a field day with these guys. They already are the scourges of the industry and this deal will give them a new reason to justify their existence. By the way, none of these guys could make a penny actually practicing real law and you wouldn’t want them defending you in a court of law, even for a speeding ticket!
If Google thinks that they’re going to breeze through the licensing process they’re in for a real cold shower. These guys are going to make it as painful as possible now that Google has shown their hand and committed to building a service. And we haven’t even talked about the publishers yet. Those are going to be fun conversations. Wouldn’t you just love to be a fly on the wall in some of those meetings?
Frankly I think that they’ve all gone about it the wrong way. For the last decade I’ve been thinking about where the real money is in digital music and it’s in search and discovery. The trick is to monetize that activity. If I were one of these dopey label heads, I’d have gone to Google (in fact every search engine) years ago and offered my entire catalog for unlimited streaming and playlist sharing for 70% of the search revenue. If someone wanted portability charge 49 or 59 cents per download. Google knows exactly what the numbers are and could predict the search revenues almost to the penny, thus almost totally eliminating any risk on the part of the labels and I’d be willing to bet that those revenues would amount to billions. After all, search is how Google became a multi-billion dollar company. Don’t demand ridiculous advances; revenues would be flowing in instantly and paid quickly.
This would also do something that the labels have been dying to do—level the playing field as well as be rescued from that big ape. But, just like Fay Wray, they don’t have the cojones.