Billboard Magazine reported last night that Google would be finally be launching its long anticipated music locker service today—without major label licenses.
As you probably know, the news of Google’s intentions to follow Amazon’s lead and bypass the typical music industry tsuris was first reported here a few weeks ago.
The Billboard story cites sources that say Sony and Universal were the problem children whose demands pushed Google down this path. In my previous story, I identified Sony as the sticking point for Google’s plans and I am slightly surprised to hear that Universal was that problematic as well. I’ve always been very candid in my opinion that UMG’s digital maven Rob Wells is the best in the business, but I’m starting to hear rumblings that UMG CEO Lucian Grainge is starting to gum up the works on some important digital deals. Google just may have been one of them. There’s a feeling out there that Steve Jobs may have gotten to Grainge in much the same way he got to Doug Morris and has “impressed” upon him the importance that iTunes get favored nations–plus one.
The Google service will have some cool features, but evidently will require Flash support, thus not compatible with iOS devices. However playlists will be able to be synched across devices and the service will have a featured called Instant Mix, something like iTunes Genius, that will automatically create playlists around the sonic characteristics of a single track.
This development raises some interesting issues. As I wrote previously regarding Amazon’s move to an unlicensed service, it’s highly doubtful that the labels will sue Google since the issue regarding the uploading of media by a user is currently well into litigation in the EMI v. MP3Tunes lawsuit. It makes no sense for the labels to start throwing money at lawyers to litigate issues that are already in the courts. But what happens if EMI prevails in their lawsuit? The result could very well be licensing chaos.
Let’s not forget the elephant in the room either. What’s Apple’s next move now that they’ve been beaten to the cloud by their sworn enemy? Some industry observers believe that one or more label heads have purposely tried to slow the progress of new music services in order to give Apple some running room to get their cloud service up first. You can bet that Steve Jobs is not too happy about being outflanked by the likes of Amazon and Google.
Frankly I’m thrilled that Google decided to move forward without label cooperation. It’s time that major record labels got knocked from their pedestals and hopefully realize that they don’t necessarily have all of the leverage any longer. For years label arrogance cost investors tens of millions of wasted dollars. Nobody wants to deal with them. Since Google and Amazon have launched services without going through licensing hell, maybe investors will be more willing to come back to the digital music sector.
In the meantime the unlicensed Google music service, along with Amazon’s, could very well be the deathblow to a recording industry that is currently on life support. Unreasonable demands have now cost the labels a lot of money and it’s unlikely that they’ll ever see a dime from Google. They were counting on Google to help save them from Apple and bring them some big coin.
But hey–no reason to get all that bummed out. There will always be some sucker with cash craving to be in show business and sit upfront at the Grammys.