Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

A Store, a Cloud Service and Sharing: Here's What Google Music Might Look Like

A download store, a music locker and the ability to share some of your music with your friends, for $25 a year. That’s what Google would like its music service to look like.

So says Billboard’s Ed Christman, who has been talking to label executives familiar with Google’s (GOOG) proposals for its yet-to-be-launched service. The music industry hasn’t agreed to any of this yet, so the gap between “like to” and “will be” could be significant. But it’s worth reading Christman’s piece to get a sense of what the Google guys are looking for.

In short:

  • Google would like to sell music a track at a time, just as Apple’s iTunes does.
  • Google would like to give users the ability to listen to any track all the way through, at least once, as MySpace Music does, and Lala did before Apple (AAPL) acquired it and shut it down. Google’s music search service provides free full plays for some songs but not others.
  • Google would like to offer a $25 a year “locker service,” where any music you own, no matter where you procured it, would be stored on an Internet server. You could then listen to a stream of the song no matter where you where, via a Web player or a mobile phone.
  • Google would like to let subscribers share their music with their friends, allowing them to listen to a song a single time.

All of which sounds pretty good. And all of which sounds like concepts that the labels would be fine with, in theory–even the part about letting you access songs you “shared” via P2P services.

The sticking point, of course, will be money: How much will the labels demand up front, how much will they charge per user or per use, and how will the money be split up between different rights holders?

The last part is a question that often gets ignored when people start spitballing ideas for music services, but it’s crucial, because music rights are a complicated web that tangles up even the best intentions. Even if the “labels” agree to Google’s terms, that likely won’t be enough, because the “labels” don’t usually own songs outright–any given song or catalog may have multiple owners.

That’s not a problem if you simply want to open up another download store, or even a streaming subscription service, because there’s a broad consensus about how to split up the pennies that those generate. But with something new, like the locker/sharing proposal, there are a lot of cats to herd. Which makes this stuff interesting but far from definitive.


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