This week’s announcement of Google’s cloud music service, Music Beta, and last month’s launch of Amazon’s Cloud Music Player are a big step towards the ubiquitous, portable (and legal) music experience consumers are demanding. For those that don’t know, they allow you to take digital files you have already purchased or converted, and instead of storing them all on one hard drive or iPod, you can stream them via an internet connected device (PC or an Android phone for example). However, they are both fairly limited “digital lockers” allowing you to upload and access music you already own in limited territories and on limited devices. Both services cite lack of music industry support as the reason they are not more robust music access platforms. Even the limited functionality of these services was fought by the industry, leading both companies to launch without securing licensing deals.
The last ten years have taught us that media companies have to embrace a consumer-centric attitude towards content distribution. If great content is not made easily accessible whenever and wherever a consumer wants, it is just easier to steal it. This is an easy argument to make from the outside but insiders realize things are much more complicated. There are nauseating rights negotiations, uncertain revenue models, fickle technology partners, risks of cannibalization, etc. etc. None of those hurdles change the simple truth: if great content is not made easily accessible whenever and wherever a consumer wants, it is just easier to steal it.
No one should understand this better than the music industry – continually the whipping boy and tale of caution across the media industry. I can’t tell you how many meetings and panels I’ve attended that start with “we have to learn from the music industry…(insert some topic pertaining to digital strategy and pricing)”.
So the music industry should understand that consumers want to seamlessly access music on demand across any device they happen to have with them and wrapped in a clean user interface, preferably with some kind of personalization and recommendation engine, and priced somewhere south of $10 a month. Seems pretty straight forward, right? Broadcasters figured it out with Hulu, studios figured it out with Netflix, even cable companies are figuring it out with TV Everywhere. These are all cloud-based subscription models that meet consumer demand while gently training customers to expect to pay for content. So where is the music industry’s equivalent?
I understand all of the challenges that Hulu and Netflix face and the friction they’re causing. I’m not putting them up as poster boys for sustainable profit centers (although I’ll make that argument). I’m saying they are examples of media verticals proactively embracing consumer-centric distribution, and generating respectable revenue in the process. I also understand the difficulties in retro-actively trying to secure streaming rights to old catalog as well as the music industry’s desire to hammer out favorable upfront contracts with start-ups that want to put that catalog into the cloud. Again, these hurdles don’t change the simple truth: if great content is not made easily accessible whenever and wherever a consumer wants, it is just easier to steal it. The music industry needs to figure out a cloud based subscription model, fast.