Michael Robertson: Surveying Crowded Music Subscription Sector
Plus A Chart Comparing Music Subscription Services
This guest post by Michael Roberston looks at the subscription music sector and how the addition of Apple and Google services may or may not change the sector. Robertson founded MP3.com and is currently the CEO of cloud music locker service MP3Tunes.
Press speculation abounds about forthcoming Apple or Google music subscriptions services. If and when they materialize they'll join a crowded field of alternatives big and small. Competitors range from ten year veterans Rhapsody and Napster, euro-darling Spotify to newcomers like MOG and Rdio. In spite of the enormous investment the global user base is estimated at under 2 million current subscribers globally.
To carve out a viable business any new service will have to offer something innovative in price or features - which could prove challenging given the competition. Record labels have offered uniform pricing to online music services which have led to $3/month radio type of services, $5/month pricing for browser based streaming, and $10/month for web + mobile. Music companies are unlikely to give a tech giant a pricing advantage over those before them who have paid millions in up front guarantees as well as given slices of their company to record labels as Spotify and MOG have done.
Any new service will need to focus on features to distinguish itself. This will be difficult because record labels are quite specific in terms they offer to licensees. All of the basic elements have already been hammered out and precisely defined including minute aspects like:
- trial period
- credit card requirements
- pricing tiers
- mobile access
- length of free song preview
- levels of interactivity (fast forward, rewind, select a song)
- regions, c
- device (mobile or web)
With their i-empire (iPhone, iTouch, iPad) Apple possesses an advantage in both marketing and possibly functionality. Apple has the digital connection to immediately reach the tens of millions of iTunes users who possess a credit card. Undoubtedly they would use this zero cost marketing methodology. What's less known is how Apple can use secret functionality in their devices to provide their own music service features. Most third party music services support Apple products quite well today. However there are certain features they are barred from using such as accessing the local database of iTunes music on a device. This makes it impossible to combine music from a user's personal collection with a paid service. Another example would be using data about previously listening behavior to tailor a music service to a user. If Apple were to employ these advantages they would be able to offer a level of device integration unavailable today which could distinguish their service from others.
The Google Android platform is burgeoning with strong adoption in smart phones and several tablets on the horizon. However, a fundamental difference is Google does not have the email address and credit card for those millions of Android users as Apple does. They cannot directly reach them. In addition the openness of the Android platform means that Google has not blocked other music services from integrating tightly into the device. To put this another way, anything Google can do the existing services are likely already doing. Many Android music clients are more advance than their iPhone counterparts because Google allows greater access to GPS, local music directory, data collection, etc.
The roots of Apple's current success is built upon their initial digital music efforts demonstrating the importance of music. Apple is unlikely to forget that and that surely hasn't gone unnoticed at Google. Expect both companies to continue to make investments in music, but there's a full field of competitors who believe they can compete.
A Look At Current Music Subscription Services