Google unveiled its new music service, Google Play Music All Access, at its I/O conference last week. As Matt Peckham wrote on Time this week (he chose to call it GPMAA, BTW):
…GPMAA represents Google’s attempt to offer a subscription-based music service, streaming “millions” of songs — intermingled with up to 20,000 more, uploadable or song-matched from your personal library — for $10 a month ($8 a month if you sign up by the end of June). Chris Yerga, Google’s engineering director who steered this part of the keynote, explained that GPMAA would include common music streaming features like curated playlists, album recommendations and a build-your-own-radio-station feature.
Since the current streaming music market is dominated by the likes of Pandora and Spotify, both of which offer “freemium” models (free for a certain number of hours/features; beyond that, consumers pay), Google’s move is a bit unusual because its music library is similar to their libraries. Also, no ads. Just a paid subscription, with adaptive streaming sound quality.
As Matt and several others noted, this doesn’t sound like a differentiated service. In fact, it actually sounds like a narrowly focused offering, targeting those that listen to a lot of music every month.
So why do it? And what is its long game?
(You can bet a decent amount of money that this seeming head-scratcher of a move fits in with a larger strategy.)
Some thoughts on this topic come to us from James McQuivey, a Forrester analyst, who writes on his blog:
To be clear, music is one of the most powerful tools for engaging digital consumers because they use it every day and connect to it emotionally and socially. If Google failed to make a play for the music business, it would later regret it because its customers would remain forever tied to another digital service that could ultimately open a vulnerability in the company’s relationship with hundreds of millions of Android and Chrome users. The fear of ceding this permanent vulnerability to others explains why Google Play is adding All Access.
In fact, he thinks that Google should have created a first of its kind “media package” consisting of music, movies and video games.
If only the company had reached beyond simply catching up to existing music players. Google’s PC, phone, and tablet based customer relationship puts it in a unique position to reach for a blended media subscription experience, something that expands the very notion of what media is and how people believe they’re paying for it. Imagine $24.99 a month for all-access music, Netflix-like streaming, two current movie downloads, and a lending library for paid games where you can “check out” one paid game for free for one week at a time. That would be a way to make Google Play media content do more than merely copy iTunes, Pandora, and Spotify, it would take media consumption beyond the reach of Netflix, Amazon, and anyone else. But evidently Google wasn’t ready to reach for the real prize.
That last sentence is the key, IMO: Google may have exactly those ambitions, but its not ready. Yet.
The bundle itself makes a lot of sense in theory, at least to me. Why have consumers sign up with 4 different services, for their audio, video, movie and game needs, when they can just sign up with Google? (Or Amazon, for that matter, who may also presumably be thinking along those lines…)
And if you look at the Google Play snapshot I included above or go to this site and click on Books, Magazines, etc., you may just be impressed at the choices that already exist. (Question – do you know that you can buy magazine subscriptions via Google now? How about bestsellers from the NYTimes’ list? No? Thought so).
So if I were Google, while I develop Google Music, on a parallel track I would furiously work to increase my partnerships in Movies and TV (Priority #1: Add streaming video) and start work on that all-inclusive monthly media bundle.
If and when this happens, successfully, not counting its driverless car business and its cloud provider (ala Amazon EC2) aspirations, Google would have transformed itself into a twin-headed colossus: An ad-driven “free” online enabler or provider of all kinds of data/user-content driven services, and a non-ad-revenue driven consumer media distribution giant.
What do you think?
PS: A big caveat here is that consumers that are willing to pay for movies, those that are willing to pay for music and those that will pay for other kinds of media may all behave very differently and may (or may not) see the value in a bundled offering. Just because something sounds good in theory is no excuse to expect it to succeed in practice. So I would imagine that Google either already has models that tell it that bundled offerings may not succeed, which is why it hasn’t already offered one just using the libraries it has access to – or – its models are telling it that such a bundle will be a runaway success, and all it needs is access to vast content libraries and a reputation in this space, both of which it will build in the coming months and years. As they say, watch this space…