Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Google Music Isn’t an iTunes Killer, and It’s Not Supposed to Be

We can’t call it a news conference, because almost all of the news had been previously reported. But, for the record: Google Music finally opened up today, offering both a locker service and a store, along with a limited ability to share songs, for free, with Google+ users.

If you’d like to, you can compare Google’s store and locker to Apple’s long-established iTunes store and just-launched iTunes Match locker. For instance, Google’s locker is free and lets you store 20,000 songs. Apple’s locker costs $25 a year and lets you store 25,000 songs. Warner Music Group songs aren’t available at Google’s store but are at Apple’s. Etc.

[UPDATE: Because at least one of you asked - Google's service doesn't offer the "Match" feature that Apple does, which means that users will have to upload every song they want to access from Google's locker. For a user with a decent-sized library and a conventional residential broadband connection, that process could take a very long time, perhaps several days.]

But that’s sort of missing the point, because few people will make that comparison in the real world.

Instead, real people will make a simple non-decision: If they use an Android phone, they can’t use Apple’s store or locker. So now they can use Google’s. And while it will be theoretically possible for iPhone users to use Google’s store and locker, it will involve some kludgy sidesteps that won’t appeal to mainstream users.

And that’s about it. In the end, this isn’t about helping Google “catch up to iTunes” — it’s about filling the big, gaping, musical hole in Google’s mobile business. But as market report after market report has pointed out, the lack of a music store — and a decent music player, for that matter — hasn’t hurt Android sales.

The flip side is also true: Music sales have always been a side business for Apple, and that’s even more true now in the app economy. ITunes sales grew 28 percent in the last year, but Apple says that’s primarily due to the App Store’s expansion into new territories.

The most interesting part of the rollout is the sharing feature — that’s the “twist” that Android boss Andy Rubin hinted at last month. It’s a limited-use case — you actually have to buy a song or album from the Google Store in order to share it, and most people don’t buy a whole lot of music, period — but if it does work, the chief beneficiary will be Google+, Google’s newish Facebook-fighter.

Google claims that more than 40 million people are using Google+, but I haven’t met a soul who isn’t in the tech nerd industrial complex who has used it, and I’ve been wondering how Google would convince a “normal” to sign up for another social service. Perhaps a free song will do it.


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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google