For the last year, we’ve heard rumors of how both Apple and Google were getting close to releasing music locker services that allow music listeners to upload their music collection to the cloud, giving them the ability to listen to their music everywhere. So it was a big surprise when the first major player to launch a music locker service wasn’t Google or Apple, but Amazon.
Last week, with little fanfare, Amazon released Amazon Cloud Drive, a cloud-based music locker that includes the Amazon Cloud Player, allowing people to listen to their music anywhere. Amazon’s entry into the music locker is a big deal and should be particularly worrisome for Google and Apple, because Amazon brings nine varieties of special sauce to the music locker world that will make them a formidable competitor (Note: This article originally appeared on MusicMachinery):
1. Amazon can keep a secret: For the last year, we’ve heard much about the rumored Google and Apple locker services, but not a peep about the Amazon service. The first time people heard about the Amazon Locker service was when Amazon announced it on its front page. It says a lot about a large organization that can launch a major new product without rumors circulating in the industry.
2. Amazon isn’t afraid to say ‘F*ck You’ to the labels: While Apple and Google are negotiating licensing rights for the locker service, Amazon just went ahead and released their locker without any special music license. Amazon Director of Music Craig Pape told Billboard.biz, “We don’t believe we need licenses to store the customers’ files. We look at it the same way as if someone bought an external hard drive and copy files on there for backup.”
3. Amazon knows how to do the ‘cloud thing’: Amazon has been leading the pack in cloud computing for years. It knows how to build reliable, cost-effective cloud-based solutions; they’ve been doing it longer than anyone. Thousands of applications have been deployed in the Amazon cloud from big corporations and successful startups like Dropbox. (Compare that to Apple’s track record for MobileMe.) Of course, Google knows how to do this stuff too, but they haven’t been immune to problems.
4. Amazon knows about discovery: Amazon’s focus on discovery makes them a much better online bookstore than any other bookstore. They use all sorts of ways to connect a reader with a book: collaborative filtering, book reviews, customer lists, content search, best seller lists, and special deals. These techniques help get their readers deep into the long tail of books. Discovery is in Amazon’s genes. Contrast that to how well YouTube helps you find videos — or how well Apple’s Genius helps you find music, for that matter. Amazon currently provides no such discovery tools with the Amazon Cloud Music Player, but you can bet it will add those features soon, given its expertise in that area.
5. Amazon understand the importance of metadata: Amazon has always placed a premium on collecting high quality metadata about their media. That’s why it bought IMDB, and created SoundUnwound. And that’s why, when I uploaded 700 albums to the Amazon cloud, Amazon found album art and metadata for every single one of them. Compare that to iTunes, which, after nearly 10 years, still can’t find album art for 90 percent of my music collection.
6. Amazon does APIs: This is what I’m most excited about. Imagine if and when Amazon releases an Amazon Cloud Music API that lets developers build applications around the content stored in a music locker. This will open the door for myriad applications from music visualizers, playlisting engines, event recommenders, and taste sharing, on our phones, set top boxes and computers. Amazon has led the way in making everything it does available via APIs. When it releases an Amazon Cloud Music API, I think we’ll see a new level of creativity around music exploration, discovery, organization and listening.
7. Amazon has done this before: The Kindle platform already allows you to do for books what the Amazon music locker does for music. You can buy content in the Amazon store, keep it in your locker and consume it on any supported device. This is not new technology for Amazon. It’s been doing this for years.
8. Amazon has lots of customers: Last month Steve Jobs said he thought that Apple had more customer accounts than Amazon. Of course, that was just a guess, and Steve is not impartial. Amazon doesn’t say how many customer accounts it has, but we know it’s a lot. And Amazon is clever in how it promotes music purchases with this music locker feature: Music you purchase from Amazon is stored for free in your locker, and when you buy an album your locker storage gets upgraded to 20GB for free.
9. Amazon seems to care: Google accidentally built the largest music destination in YouTube, but it presents music fans with the challenge of separating the good (original) music from the many covers, remixes, parodies and just plain crap that seem to fill the channel. Meanwhile, iTunes has gone from being a pretty good way to play music to something that I only use to sync new content to my phone. It is bloated, slow and painful to use. In the ten years that Apple has been king of the digital music hill, it has done little to help improve the music listening experience. Apple has moved on to video and apps, and music is just another feature. Contrast that with what Amazon has done with the Kindle: It made a device that arguably improves the reading experience. Amazon chose eInk over color display, kept the non-reading features to a minimum, and gave the reader great discovery tools like the ability to sample the first few chapters of any book. I’m hopeful that Amazon will apply their same since of care for books to the world of music.
Amazon’s music locker is not perfect by any means. There’s no iPhone app. The storage is too expensive, and there are no discovery or automatic playlisting features in the player. But what it has built is solid and usable.
I’m also not bullish on music lockers in general. I’d rather pay $10 bucks a month to listen to any of five million tracks than buy tracks at a dollar each, but I’m glad to see Amazon position itself so aggressively in this space. Competition between Google, Apple and Amazon will lead to a better music experience for us all.
(Originally posted on Paul Lamere’s MusicMachinery blog.)