Author - Paul S

Before the Google Storm, The Bigger Story: Lala.com + iPhone App = End of MP3 Downloads?

I suspect we'll be hearing quite a bit about the Google+Lala.com alliance that is supposed to be officially announced sometime today.  In the meantime, there are other angles on the Lala story that warrant some attention.

Yesterday Ars Technica offered up a nice recap of how Lala.com  reorganized itself over the past several years to stand now at the threshold of game-changing status by virtue of its pending alliance with Google.  But a bigger story lies in what is pending for the iPhone. 

Mf_lala_f It appears the cloak of secrecy is being pulled back from the iPhone app that Lala.com has had in beta-testing for a couple of weeks now. And the Associated Press is reporting that the app will be touted as the tool that sends MP3 downloading into the ash-heap of digital music delivery: 

"There's no downloading, no links to click on, it's just there," said Lala co-founder Bill Nguyen, who described the concept as the start of "the end of the MP3."

The advantage of having songs in MP3 files is that they can be downloaded and played on a variety of devices and computers. Meanwhile, streaming services pump music directly to a computer or mobile device, but not in a form that the user can store and play any time, even while offline.

Lala's iPhone app aims to get around that downside of streaming while taking advantage of the device's power as a music player (it has an iPod inside it, after all) and undercutting the prices charged on iTunes, where songs generally cost 69 cents to $1.29.

Once users pay 10 cents to have a song streamed from Lala, they can hear the track essentially any time. The songs that a user listens to most often in the app or designates as favorites are automatically loaded in the phone's memory, which is the step that allows them to be heard any time, even out of cell phone range.

That last provision sounds like something of a hybrid, and is not unlike what is already being attributed to the iPhone app for Spotify.  That capability at least allows for the possibility that you're not always going to have access to decent wireless broadband (as I did not over the past five days in the West Carolina mountains; not even downtown Asheville, NC had decent 3G service.  What's up with that??). 

But based on my own experience, I don't think what Mr. Nguyen suggests is an exaggeration at all.  Lala.com — especially once it gets on the iPhone — is a potential game changer, because it has the potential to get users accustomed to the idea that they don't need to "own" the music they want to listen to.  

This is all great for us as end-users, but I still want to know what is going to happen to the already crumbling economics of the music business when "a dime a track" becomes the norm. 

If getting on board with paid-for downloads was the light at the end of digital music tunnel, then Lala.com's dime-a-track model on the iPhone is the locomotive behind the light. 

Oh, Garth Brooks is just gonna have a heart palpitating seizure when he starts getting wind of this news. 

“Sword in Hand,” Analog Crusader Garth Brooks Storms Ass-First into the Digital Future

Bonaza-land-mccluhan-scan You really do have to give Garth Brooks some kind of credit — for putting his head so deep in the analog sand that his digital ass is just ripe for a swift kicking.

It’s not ironic enough that — after sitting on the sidelines for most of this millennium — he’s now following in the tracks of trail-blazers like Elvis and Liberace and taking his act to Las Vegas. No, not only that, but now that Garth Van Winkle has awakened, he actually seems to think that the past ten years haven’t happened:

“What I find myself doing with these record label heads is they’re going, ‘Hey, we’re doing great!’ And the truth is, they’re doing great with what they’ve got to work with. But the truth is, they’re making one-twentieth of what they should be making. The people that are running Taylor Swift‘s place? Those people, even though they’re the most successful, I betcha in the ’90s, they would’ve made 10 times more — without piracy and without having to sell everything at 99 cents. If that young lady, if for every single she sold, she sold an album, those people could have money for artist development again and for taking chances.”

Marshal McLuhan knew all about that kind of logic.  He called it “seeing the future through a rear-view mirror.”  Something about moving backward, “rump bumping into the future…”

Garth Brooks has the reputation of being a pretty smart guy, but you do have to wonder if spending the past ten years at home with his children hasn’t somehow possessed him of the delusion that toothpaste can go back into the tube.

And now, here he is, putting his Stetson back on and getting back on his virtual high horse to take on the 99c download — just as that whole model itself stands on the threshold of obsolescence.

I sure wish I could be around to see the expression on Garth’s face when he finds out that what used to be a dollar is now… a dime.

If that.

Will Google’s New Music Service Affect Your Business? Surprise: It Might.

Kate O’Neil Gets It:

Kateo What I think is even more interesting, from the standpoint of a
meta-marketer, is the way this further positions Google as the champion
of user experience. Structured semantic search results are going to
continue to emerge, and they will put relevant answers in the path of the searcher, not just options for a possible destination.

If your business has historically provided stock quotes, then you
already experienced this when Google (and other engines) put stock
quotes at the top of search results for a ticker symbol.

If you’re a music content provider, you’re about to experience this.

If your business hasn’t been affected yet, it probably will soon.

Amen, sister.

Spotify Fans Weigh in on “Google’s sorry music widget”

Logo_400_90 Spotify is big in the UK — where, I guess, you can actually get it. So it’s not surprising that a British source would make unflattering comments about not only the pending new “Google Music” service, but Lala.com as well:

Hyped overnight as a Google ‘Music Service’, what we see instead is set to be the most underwhelming launch in a long history of label-backed music flops. It’s barely a ‘service’ – merely a sorry widget that yokes a DRM-crippled version of LaLa’s already unpopular streaming offering with unsold Adwords inventory.

Instead of a text ad, a search for a music related keyword will show a widget. This allows you to listen to the song, according to Business Week – but only once. After that you pay to hear the stream at 10c a play. (You can also buy the song.)

Don’t all rush at once.

Ah, apparently they haven’t done their research there. You don’t pay “10c a play” to hear the song again. With lala.com you pay 10c for the track and then you can listen to it as much as you want, forever and for always.

Now granted, that’s not quite as encompassing a model as a flat monthly fee for all your ears can eat, but it certainly makes a buck go farther than shelling out 99c to download the track when the fact is all we really want to do is LISTEN to it.

Delusions Persist: Nashville ‘s Music Row Chimes in on Google Music

Google-music This morning Nashville’s Tennessean assesses the impact that the new Google music service — revealed yesterday but not to be  officially announced until next week — will have on the crumbling ruins of Music City’s most visible industry:

The news comes as music CD sales have tumbled dramatically over the past decade. Sales of digital downloads have not made up for the revenue loss.

But Nashville area record label executives, along with those in the creative side of the industry, said Google’s initiative could help them reach more listeners — and sell more music

It’s hard to explain to people who’ve built their livelihoods on the concept of “selling music” that their business model is going away completely. It’s hard to drill into their heads the idea that the shift from “ownership” to “access” virtually obsolesces the whole idea of “selling” music.

So Music Row types who are reading the Tennessean this morning are probably reaching for their pitchforks when they read a quote from a certain blogger re: the ultimate future of digital music delivery, in which the Google move is just more step in the inexorable direction:

“I’m worried that we are on the threshold of a time when the
remunerative value of music is zero,” said Nashville writer and
entrepreneur Paul Schatzkin, whose Celestial Jukebox blog focuses on digital music.

“Your browser is becoming your iPod,” Schatzkin said. “There is a behavioral
shift afoot where consumers are getting accustomed to the concept of
access to an infinite universe of music versus ownership of a limited
personal library.”

Elsewhere, the tech blog Ars Technica weighs in, confirming yesterday’s report that the service on Google is only going to offer “snippets,” not the full “first time for free” stream that Lala.com users get:

According to insiders speaking to the Wall Street Journal, the music will come in the form of free, embedded streams from either Lala.com or iLike.com.
Those who are interested in buying the music will be able to do so from
either of those two sites—iLike allows users to buy unprotected MP3s
directly but also provides a link to iTunes, while Lala only sells the
unprotected MP3 with no other direct links….

Some leaked screenshots allegedly of the new service are available at TechCrunch,
showing that users won’t be able to listen to an entire song from
Google’s search results, but rather just a snippet. Realistically, this
makes sense—most searchers want to confirm that they found what they
were searching for, and then click through to buy or browse through
similar music.

Agreed, that is the only reason a 30-second snippet of music ever makes sense — when I’ve already heard something somewhere else, and want to confirm that that’s the track I’m looking for.

Ars Technica tries to make the case that Google Music (or Audio, or whatever its called) is not a “game changer” for music delivery, but I wonder if they’re missing the point.  Maybe “incremental game changer” is an oxymoron, but that’s what this is — another step in the arrival of the Celestial Jukebox.

Granted, I’m not an objective observer on this subject, but I can’t help but think that the big winner in this is not Google — and certainly not the calcified Luddites on Music Row — but Lala.com, and, by extension, the music audience.

The link through Google search will bring more people to Lala.com, where many will discover for the first time the marvel of unrestricted access to an virtually infinite library of music (if it’s more than you can listen to in a lifetime, that might qualify as “infinite”).  Then they’ll start shelling out that dime-a-track to listen to things they like again; once that happens, they’re hooked on the “access” model, and Music Row will never again be able to sell (at least those people) encoded plastic wafers for $15 a pop.

BIG WIN for Lala.com – Teams with Google for Streaming Audio Service

None of the companies involved will confirm the new Google Music service – we have “no comments” or absolute silence from Google, LaLa, MySpace and iLike. But the new service is all but confirmed. And we have the screenshots showing how the service, which will be announced on October 28, will look to prove it.

Matt Ghering, a product marketing manager at Google, has been one of the people talking to the big four music labels about the new service, we’ve heard from one of our sources. And he has supposedly sent these screenshots of the look and feel of Google Music search to various rights holders and potential partners.

The first screenshot shows how a search result might look on Google for a search for “U2.” A picture of the band is to the left of four streaming options for various songs, and the user has the option of listening via either iLike or LaLa. Click on one of the results, and a player pops up from the services that streams the song, along with an option to purchase the song for download.

We don’t know if this is the final look of the service, but it’s definitely something Google has been sending to people to show them what it might look like.

More thoughts on this later as we digest all the information coming in. But one thing is clear – this is a huge win for LaLa and iLike. Both will get massive flow from this deal. And as much as we criticize MySpace, their acquisition of iLike is starting to look sort of brilliant.

via www.techcrunch.com

Another Player on the Celestial Jukebox? “Google Audio” Lurks.

TechGoogle-audio Crunch is reporting:

Google will soon launch a music service, we’ve heard from multiple sources, and the company has spent the last several weeks securing content for the launch of the service from the major music labels. One source has referred to the new service as Google Audio.

We’re still gathering details, but our understanding is the service will be very different to the Google China music download service that they launched in 2008. That service, which is only available in China, allows users to search for music and download it for free.

via www.techcrunch.com

There’s a surprise. How about a “Google Reader” for Internet Music?

It’s A Start: 500k New Users Download Rhapsody for iPhone

Rhapsody Rhapsody’s iPhone app has been downloaded 500,000 time according to the company.  “Over 500K shrewd users have decided that unlimited access to practically any song, practically anywhere ain’t such a bad idea,” wrote Rhapsody’s Garrett Kamps on the company’s blog. Exactly how many are also paying $12.99 a month for a Rhapsody Unlimited subscription was not disclosed

via www.hypebot.com

I pulled an ad for the Rhapsody iPhone app out of the new issue of Rolling Stone over the weekend, and I plan to try it out. Rhapsody has struggled to find a viable business model, but it’s entirely possible that mobile availability could be the ingredient that pushes it to prosperity. People are slowly getting used to the idea that they don’t need to “own” what they want to listen to. They don’t “own” what they hear on the radio, this is like “radio on demand.”