Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Amazon's Cloud Music Move Isn't Earth-Shaking

The future of cloud-based music is here today!

It looks a lot like the past.

Amazon’s Cloud Drive/Cloud Player combo sounds cool, because it has the word “Cloud” in it. It’s quite useful, too.

But if you’re a music lover looking for a paradigm shift in the way you consume tunes, this won’t be it.

This also won’t do much for the music industry, which has seen digital sales flatten while CD sales continue to plummet.

Here’s what Amazon’s Cloud system does:

  • It lets you store your music and other files, including movies, on Amazon’s servers.
  • It lets you play your music–but only your music–on Google’s Android devices via an app, and on Macs and PCs via a Web browser.

And here’s what it doesn’t do:

  • It won’t let you play your music on any Apple iOS device–iPad, iPhone or iPod.
  • It won’t help you find and listen to music you don’t own.

I can’t think of a reason not to use Amazon’s service, especially since its freemium pricing model gives you 5 gigabytes of storage, gratis.

But I also can’t imagine it fundamentally changing the way anyone consumes music: If you buy digital music, it might make you ever so slightly inclined to buy it from Amazon, because the file won’t count against your storage limits. But stuff you buy from iTunes, which dominates the market, will work just fine, too.

And if you acquire music through other means, there’s no reason to stop doing that–Amazon doesn’t care where the file came from, as long as it’s in a format it supports. To put a fine point on it: Amazon doesn’t encourage music piracy. But it doesn’t discourage it, either.

Cloud music could become really interesting, if it also allowed you to listen to music your friends owned or liked, or turned you on to music you’ve never heard before. Those features exist, too. But right now they’re only available via subscription services that run $5 to $10 a month in the U.S.

And a middle ground–one that gives users the ability to listen to their own stuff whenever and wherever they want, while sampling new stuff for free, or a small fee–is probably doable, too.

That will require new deals with the labels, and that can be a long, slow, process. Ask Google, and Apple, and Spotify–all of which have talked to the labels at various times about cloud music but have yet to launch services in the U.S.

Amazon skipped to the head of the cloud line by not bothering to get new deals at all, and says it doesn’t need a special license to let people listen to music they already own. Common sense supports their argument, though it’s unclear what would happen if the labels and publishers decided to make a legal stink.

But Amazon has said that it plans to come back to the labels to add on more interesting features in the near future.  Those ought be interesting discussions.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik