Will Amazon’s New Music Strategy Hurt Or Help Apple & Google?
Yesterday's guest post by The Echo Nest's Paul Lamere, 9 Reasons Apple And Google Should Be Worried About Amazon, drew thoughtful comments including this one from Jesse Kanner, founder of Login Music which specializes in marketing, commerce and analytics for the music industry.
In bicycle racing, the drafting position is strategically the best spot to be - unless you can stay in the lead and continually outpace your competitors. Amazon is lead here - and surprisingly, willing to flatten the legal path for others to follow. Whether or not they will leverage their position to retain that lead because of all the great reasons listed in Paul Lamere's post, or drop behind once Apple and Google launch remains to be seen.
One guess is they've thought through the landscape carefully and fully believe they will continue to outpace all others in the locker space - even if by telling the labels to drop dead they perhaps make it easier for Apple and Google to complete their negotiations. There's another perspective that says Amazon's pushing back on the labels will actually lengthen negotiations for Google and Apple - as the waters suddenly get murky and respective interests are re-evaluated.
It's not clear whether Amazon's strategy is to take customers away from Apple or merely bolster retention of their existing customer base. Two things are pretty clear though - Apple have done a terrible job with iTunes as a listening and discovery platform over the years, and Google are perennially awkward at branding and marketing. If you're not making music feel cool no one wants to hang out - unless you offer rich and durable recommendations and meaningful community feedback with collaborative filtering. Amazon shines at this despite their sometimes icky interface branding.
Apple does quite well with the "feels cool" factor, but ultimately promotes their branding well above artists and music enthusiasts (eg Ping). Ironically LaLa was off to a brilliant start at balancing all this, but Apple's arrogance at shuttering it just proves that all Apple cares about is its own fingerprints and profits - not music lovers ...or artists for that matter. As Kara Swisher said at SXSW this year - "Apple is the classiest fascist company in America". Unless the culture there changes radically, they will fail in their next round of re-invention - which will provide an opening for several players. If Amazon can shunt music buyers to fill up their iPods and iPhones via a cloud presence, then things get really interesting.
Google is, well, Google. Larry or no Larry, they are still algorithm kings and have all the soul of a scalable data center. Read Doug Bowman's 41 Shades of Blue post to get an idea. The only shot Google has is if their metadata and community presentation is so compelling that they somehow skyrocket music search conversions. But it's becoming increasingly unclear why Google even wants into the music space at all. There's no money there! Even with a hockey-stick conversion curve, where's the long-term payoff for Google? They are likely about to undergo a significant wheat and chaff moment with their interminable product line. Even though some inside probably want to kill music, they have to launch it anyway given all the eyes waiting to see.
The impending crisis for Google isn't with monetizing music related searches, but watching the simple search business peak and cede ground to the nascent Q&A / Knowledge System business - which is really where they need to be sooner than later.