Somebody has finally nailed the operative ethos of our times:
Tag - google
…but you still have to pull it with a horse.
Other than that, there really is a lot to like about all the announcements that Apple made yesterday, and they announced a lot.
First there is the new operating system, OSX Lion, which brings some of the touch screen features of the iPhone and the iPad to the desktop. Then there is iOS 5, the new operating system for all the iGizmos, which at the very least will finally allow you to sync them altogether without a cord.
And then there was the Big New Thing: iCloud, the remote storage service that unifies everything into a whole new, self-organizing, digital ecosystem.
It will take even the most dedicated observers some time to assess all the features in all this new software – much of which will not actually be released until next fall. So there is plenty of time to sort it all out and start saving sheckels for our nifty new laptops, phones, and tablets.
But in one critical aspect, the new iCloud service is woefully lacking – and missing a grand opportunity to deliver music distribution to its inevitable destination. Read More
One wonders what curious machinations lurk behind the partnership that Google has formed with Lala.com in order to create its new "Google Music Search" service that embeds music players into any Google search that involves music.
It seems reasonable to speculate that Google might have Lala in its crosshairs as a future acquisition target.
For starters, Lala founder and CEO Bill Nguyen has a history of some half-dozen high-profile startups that have all cashed out at some point in their growth curve. There's no reason to believe from his past history that he's got any interest in taking Lala public.
And then there is Google's own history of acquisitiveness, not the least of which is their $1-billion acquisition of YouTube. That put Google squarely in the web-video business. Music on the web is even bigger than video, why would Google not want to be a player in that space?
And of course there is Google's own competitiveness. There has been much in the news lately about the conflict of interests between Google and another big partner, Apple: Google provides search and map functions for the iPhone, but Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently resigned from Apple's board of directors due to those apparent conflicts.
Apples iTunes currently dominates the market for digital delivery, but iTunes has stubbornly stuck with a pay-per-download model, adhering to Apple's CEO's admonition that "people want to own their music" — which is an oddly antiquated notion for so vaunted "thought leader" as Steve Jobs.
As a friend recently said, "iTunes is going to ride the download model all the way to the bottom." If that's the case, then Google could take Lala out, add a subscription service, and eat iTunes' for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as music delivery moves from the hard drive to the web.
This should really come as a surprise to no one:
The linked article from Hypebot includes this chart from web-traffic monitor Alexa:
…which shows that Lala's ranking has jumped from #10-15,000 to something closer to the top 1,000 or 2,000 websites (it's not exactly an easy chart to decipher).
So even as Bob Lefsetz rails against the Lala model (and Taylor Swift, or whatever other pea has found its way under his mattress this morning), it's clear that the partnership with Google is going to provide a huge lift for Lala.com.
Now I have to agree with Bob, that once you become accustomed to "access to" instead of "ownership of" music over the web, that the "nickel-and-dime" model that Lala presently employs is pretty tedious. And I still have no idea where my pennies go when when I authorize them.
But that's pretty much beside the point for now. The lift in Lala's ratings hints of the sea-change that is afoot in digital music distribution. That chart means that thousands — hundreds of thousands, maybe millions — of people are beginning to discover the vast wealth of recorded music they can listen to online — if they can simply disabuse themselves of the idea that they need to "own" what they're listening to.
The trade-off is just so obvious, I can't believe more people aren't rushing into it: instead of spending $10 or $15/mo to "own" one CD with maybe ten or twelve tracks, you spend the same month to have "access" to… fucking EVERYTHING!
And by "everything" I don't mean just the indie-released, recorded in the bedroom, some-body-please-listen stuff that populates the vast wasteland at MySpace Music. To the contrary, we're talking here about all the "popular," showing-up-on-the-radar stuff that you think you'd like to hear but maybe don't want to shell out $15 to buy. It's all out there now folks, and finding it is easier than ever thanks to Google's partnerhsip with Lala.
I agree with Lefsetz that what's missing from Lala is the monthly, flat-fee subscription program, and I don't know if they will ever flip the switch on such a service. Maybe there is something in their licensing arrangements that precludes that, I dunno.
What I do know is that while services like Spotify and Mog can't quite get their act together in the U.S., Lala is forging ahead with its service, and demonstrating to vast new legions of potential users that the universe of access is, quite literally, infinitely more vast and rewarding than a private library of recordings.
Yesterday, Google and a handful of music and tech types converged in a small auditorium in the basement of the old Capitol Records building in Los Angeles (you know, that cylindrical edifice that supposedly looks like a stack of records on a spindle?) to announce the details of the "Google Music" search service.
It's hard to imagine a more perfectly anachronistic location for such an event: Within a monument to music-as-a-product, yet another announcement heralding the end of that era.
Now speculation is rife re: what it really means. Is this new layer of search results a "game changer"?
The actual service is pretty straightforward, about what you'd expect Google to come up with, and it would appear that Google has chosen its partner services wisely. This video will give you some idea how it all works:
Essentially, what this new search function does is integrate a pop-up music player from either MySpace or Lala.com into Google's search results. That in of itself is probably not a big deal. It's convenient, but that doesn't make it a "game changer." Hell, the game changed ten years ago. Everything now is an incremental improvement toward the inevitable, and this new development certainly qualifies on that score.
The incremental improvement that the Google Music search layer offers is the likelihood that its convenience will get millions more users accustomed to the idea of having "access" to a vast music library instead of "owning" just a tiny subset of that library.
Both MySpace (with its new subsidiary, iLike) and Lala.com are included as the primary providers for the Google service; both provide streaming audio players that pop up in their own window once the results of a music-related search are delivered. There doesn't appear to be any particular logic as to which player comes up, and when asked at the event yesterday Google's spokesman would say only that the results are evenly distributed between the two partners.
Clearly the big winner in this new set up is Lala.com. With this single stroke, Lala suddenly achieves the sort of "household name" status that MySpace enjoys — despite MySpace being a hideous wasteland. Lala, by comparison, is elegant, clean, comprehensive and useful. And it can't hurt that this Google announcement comes on the heels of an alliance with that other Internet-swallowing monster, Facebook.
The big loser is the "30-second clip." Soon enough, any music service that continues to rely on song snippets as an enticement toward purchasing whole song downloads is going to start to wonder where their traffic went. Are you listening, iTunes? Do you see the handwriting on the wall yet, Amazon?
I'm always surprised when I get into a conversation about music (and by default nowadays, that means music the Internet), and discover that whoever I'm talking to has yet to discover the myriad and joyous functions of Lala. "I just changed your life," I tell them, and once they start using it, the reaction is something along the lines of "I should have known about this sooner."
Now everybody who searches for anything related music via Google is going to find out about Lala and begin to use it.
After the formal announcements and presentations by Google, MySpace/iLike and Lala, there was a panel discussion of sorts featuring a couple of artist types (Mos Def, Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic) and a couple of label types (Syd Schwartz of EMI, Wendy Nussbaum of UMG, Steve Savoca of indie Domino Records). They all tried to wax meaningfully about what this portends for their businesses. They kept using words like "monetize." Because apparently they still think people are going to keep "buying" songs.
But Bill Nguyen — CEO and Co-founder of Lala — gave away more than he probably intended when he started waiving his iPhone around and bragging about Lala's pending mobile app (which is still in beta).
Asked by somebody in the audience "How do you monetize all this free stuff? Is there an option to buy?" Nguyen whipped out his iPhone and described how having a service like Lala makes "everything I just bought available to me…" What he neglected to say is that what he's "bought" is not the 99c download — but the 10c "web" track (and I will bet that becomes a flat-monthly fee sooner rather than later).
I don't think any of these panelists fully realize that they are jumping into an abyss without a parachute. This may not be the game changer, but the game is certainly changing — again — and this new service could be a big part of the end-game.
So it was most intriguing to hear Steve Savoca of Domino Records talking about the need to "change consumption behavior" — particularly after stating that "50% of our business is digital." Then he went on to praise the new Google service as "instant gratification… a zero friction music experience…"
Which makes me wonder if he's even listening to himself, or if he hears the real consequence of what he's saying. Because if this service takes hold, and if vast numbers of users begin to get comfortable with "access" to — instead of "owning" — music, that 50% of his business is going to shrink by a factor of 10. His dollars are about to become dimes. And then pennies. And then… poof.
Again, from the consumer perspective, this is all great. I'm hearing a lot more music now than I've ever heard. As Google's Marisa Mayer (VP Search Products and User Experience) correctly pointed out, more efficient search "means people find more things in same amount of time."
But the big behavior change that Google Music takes farther down the field (and remember, we're already well inside the 10 yard line…) is the expedience of streaming over downloading. With Lala's player jacked into the search results, a whole new legion of users is going start thinking "hey, for a dime a track, I can listen to TEN TIMES as much music as I can listen to by downloading MP3s…" and then the Dominos of the world are really going to start falling.
The most telling moment of the whole nearly-90-minute press conference came very close to the end, when one of the journalists in attendance asked the panel how the revenue from these transactions is going to be distributed.
Mos Def — who had been sort of mumbling and incoherent earlier in the proceedings — pointed to the 800 pound gorilla in the room: " "they don't want to talk about that," he said, clearly enough for the whole room to erupt in laughter. Nervous, gallows-humor laughter.
You have to give the label conglomerates some kind of credit; by getting on board with something like this, they at least acknowledge that the technology is now their master, and they are doing what they can to adapt (finally). You just have to wonder when they're going realize that the train is going over a cliff.
Enough already. I learned about some bands I've never heard of before at yesterday's press conference. Now I need to go "consume" some more free music…
Kate O’Neil Gets It:
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
There’s a surprise. How about a “Google Reader” for Internet Music?