The record industry is putting all of their eggs in the Google basket, some labels believing that the search engine giant’s music service will deliver them from ruin, as well as the grips of Apple, and restore them back to health. They’re looking at the Google deal as a monster payday, with one label in particular thinking that the company’s future depends on it.
I’ve recently had some interesting conversations with execs in the know and the prevailing wisdom is that all of the other music services out there are not intimidated by what’s rumored to be on deck for Google.
It seems as though the service will be nothing more than a simple iTunes download clone with the added element of a locker service, a paid service of course. The price tag for the locker is supposedly around $30 a year.
The real news is that, according to informed sources, Google is nowhere near completing licenses with the majors. Furthermore, the actual product isn’t fully baked either. I hear that the very earliest they could get a service launched is sometime this summer, but my guess is that it will be much later in the year if this year at all. For some reason the majors unnecessarily drag out the licensing process anyway and, in this case, they’re going for supersized advances. So, this is going to take a little while.
The fact is that Google really doesn’t care about music. Their music service is merely intended to make the Android platform a little more robust in order to compete with IOS4. To illustrate this point, the head of the Android initiative, Andy Rubin, is in charge of the music service too.
What’s even more interesting is that Michael Robertson’s MP3 Tunes is being sued by EMI for having a locker service, a suit that EMI is bound to lose. The argument is that MP3 Tunes is infringing copyright by allowing users to upload their music files to their private lockers. This is different from other music specific locker services in that MP3 Tunes does not scan a user’s hard drive and match the songs with copies hosted on the MP3 Tunes servers. That would require a license from the labels, but users upload their own media to dozens of existing services like MobileMe, Dropbox and even Windows 7 (you know, the commercials where soccer moms lovingly coo about “the cloud”?). Nobody’s suing them.
Now why do I bring up Michael Robertson? Because he’s the guy who basically invented the music locker concept almost a decade ago at MP3.com. In fact, he’s the guy who really put the mp3 format on the map—a format that is now the industry standard. He created a service called Beam-It that allowed users to pop a CD into their computers and seconds later have it available in their private mp4.com accounts for listening anywhere. The beauty of it was that the user would have to buy the CD in order to have it in their music locker. The industry, in their ultimate wisdom, looked upon this as an infringement of their copyrights rather than a tool to sell more CD’s. This, of course, was totally in character.
According to Robertson, “By attacking the Music Locker, EMI is attacking the right to personal ownership of digital property. I believe people should be able to listen to their music anywhere they want, and on any device that suits them — this is why we buy it…If you can’t store digital music you own in a personal online account, then your rights to all other digital property like movies, photos, e-books, medical records, etc. can be challenged”.
So getting back to Google, the point is that unfortunately their music service will not be breaking any new ground. ITunes was a game changer six years ago. Spotify is a game changer that could actually finally be the big breakthrough for subscription services, something the industry has spent the last decade praying for. Instead, it looks like the labels will continue to tread water, if they’re lucky, that is…