Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Is Amazon's Cloud Music Play Too Little, Too Late? What will Apple do?

Amazon's announcement of it's Cloud Drive and Player makes it first out of the gate of several "cloud locker" music services from some major players.  Goole and Apple are expected to bring out their own versions soon.  These services allow you to stream music that you already own from the Internet to an array of devices - computers, iPods and portable devices, phones, and other Internet-connected devices.  As pointed out on the highly recommended blog,, applications like Subsonic have allowed you to stream your music over the Internet for years, with a much higher degree of customization and privacy.  The question is - does the average user even want to do this?

Amazon is already running into resistance from the recording industry - the big content players have a problem with this level of portability.  Supposedly Amazon only gave them a week's notice before their announcement and they are still scrambling to figure out how to respond.  They want you to buy the same song or album separately for each format - it's been their business model for years, from vinyl to cassette to CD to digital. 

Whether it is Amazon's Cloud Drive, Subsonic, or any other service which allows you to upload your music and stream it from anywhere, there is a question as to whether these services are a dying model before they even hit the mainstream.  The idea of collecting a set of "your music" and storing it anywhere is becoming passe with the advent of several very popular and up-and-coming streaming services.  These services offer various flavors of an "all you can eat" plan with the ability to access music from huge centralized music libraries - no reason to buy, collect, store, organize and curate your own collection.

Pandora and have been a big gateways to music streaming for casual users.  They allow you to choose the type of music you wish to hear, and match music to your tastes, but doesn't actually allow you to choose a specific song, in theory sidestepping the licensing issues involved with streaming on demand (not that it has prevented Big Music from charging broadcast licensing fees and trying for more).  Advertising supports these sites, both visual ads on the itnerface and interstitial audio ads between songs.

Services like Spotify, Grooveshark, Rdio, and MOG are the next generation of streaming music service.  They allow users to search and browse a huge catalog of music and stream songs on demand.  Like Zune Pass and Rhapsody before them, they allow unlimited music for a monthly subscription fee (or in the case of GrooveShark and MOG, free with ad support).  These services offer web-based players, as well as apps for Apple and Android devices.  Some cover other devices as well - there are severl Roku channels for streaming sites, and Spotify even has a Sonos app for streaming music through your Sonos home music system.  They also work in a variety of social features and deep music information, allowing users to share their tastes and recommendations.  Some even offer unlimited downloads to portable devices.  Of course, while these services have been wildly popular and secure licesning agreeements for their catalogs, the recording industry has engaged in some legal battles with them as well.

It seems that with the advent and popularity of these streaming services with huge libraries and anywhere-availability, the idea of trying to collect all of the music you like and keep up with new music seems almost quaint.  Unless your tastes run to narrow niches, the chances are you can find a service with a catalog that meets your requirements.  While those of us who grew up with Napster still covet our mp3 collections, the generations after us will probably never know the pride (and headaches) of trying to collect all of the music you love, keep it organized and updated.  Of course, they will know the joy of being able to listen to just about any song, from just about any device, without needing to worry about purchasing, storing, accessing and maintaining a personal music collection.  That's a future which sounds pretty good, as long as the dinosaurs of the recording industry roll over and let this business model flourish.

Apple has a huge opportunity here.  Combining the factors that they have built a huge datacenter in North Carolina, acquired Lala music service (and shut it down about a year ago), and the need to reinvent the flailing MobileMe service point toward a streaming music service - do they stick with the old model and offer the limited capability of streaming music you have already purchased on iTunes, or do they break through with an unlimited listening subscription service?  They are the one company with the reach and power to go toe-to-toe with the recording companies and really build out the deep library which would make this service ideal.

Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player

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