Google will announce a music service this afternoon in Los Angeles. Evolver.fm won’t make good on our invite, but instead plan to watch a private webcast of the announcement, which appears to be a rather poorly-kept secret.
According to Bloomberg and others, Google’s music store will do the same thing Amazon and iTunes do: sell individual music downloads for $.99 to $1.29. The twist: each song will apparently include some sort of sharing feature — a rumor that borne out by the apparent refusal of Warner Music Group to license the service yet, according to Bloomberg, due to “pricing and piracy concerns.”
Warner’s refusal to sign off is actually a good sign for Google, because it must be doing something interesting with this sharing feature. Apparently, the way it will work is that with each purchase, the buyer will have the opportunity to share the song with one or two people as a stream, most likely within the Google+ social network. (This sounds right, because Warner is a notorious holdout against free streaming.)
Bloomberg holds Google’s feet to the fire for launching a music store eight years after Apple launched iTunes, the first digital music store in the world to sell music from all (then five) major labels.
Here are four reasons that Google, which seems to be all about music this year, would bother selling music:
1. Eight years is not too late to figure out digital music.
Yes, eight years is a long time, but two incredibly important things happened in those eight years, both very recently. First, music can be delivered by apps now, rendering the need for consumer-visible DRM moot, even for subscription services. Second, everybody’s on social networks now, meaning that sharing can be built into these apps in ways that make iTunes look like an Edsel.
2. Google wants to be like Apple
As Apple has proven, companies with their fingers in multiple pies benefit from building entire ecosystems of hardware, software, services, and stores. Google already copied Apple’s approach to selling apps with the unified Android.com market, and copied iOS with Android. In order to complete the next step, Google needs a music store that works seamlessly with those things, and with its music locker, even if it loses money.
Facebook made major inroads with music this year. If Google+ wants to compete, it needs music too, and this is one way to do that. Sweetening the pot: Apple’s Ping didn’t take off; Facebook doesn’t have a music store; and Amazon doesn’t have a social network.
Also, music functions as a sort of “social glue,” sort of like how alcohol is a “social lubricant.” We figured out a way to use Google+ Hangouts to listen to music with other people at the same time, but that was a kluge. A real social music feature within Google+ would be far better. In addition, as we mentioned this summer when we first started examining Google’s music potential closely, Google is tying employee bonuses to the social features they create, and music lends itself to social sharing.
Facebook didn’t kill MySpace as a music destination — YouTube did. Until recently, when Spotify launched in America and Rdio, Rhapsody, and MOG reacted by unveiling free, on-demand trials that similarly do not require a credit card, YouTube was by far the best place to find out what a band sounds like in seconds, and still works great for that purpose. With a music store, Google can attach “buy” links to all of those videos.