A new digital music service from Google will likely include a la carte downloads, music sharing and a cloud-based “digital locker” where users can store their music for $25 a year, according to a report by Billboard. Sources told the music-industry magazine that Google has been circulating a detailed proposal for just such a service to a number of record labels, hoping to get them to sign licensing deals that would allow the company to offer access to their music.
One of the most contentious elements of Google’s proposal is likely to be an option that would allow users to stream an entire song from the company’s online store without buying it (once in their digital locker, they would apparently be able to stream or download it at will). Google is also reportedly proposing that users who own a song would be able to share a playlist with their friends, and those friends could also listen to each song once without having to buy it. With most existing music services, users can only listen to short snippets of a song before buying (usually 30 seconds or less).
Google’s idea of a digital storage locker, where users can transfer songs they’ve bought online with a single click, is also very similar to a service launched several years ago by serial entrepreneur Michael Robertson, called MP3Tunes. Robertson, who launched one of the first online music services at MP3.com in the 1990s, has tried repeatedly to offer cloud-based storage and streaming of music. His first attempt got him sued by Universal Music, because the record label argued he was copying its music illegally, and Robertson is currently fighting a lawsuit with EMI over the MP3Tunes music locker service.
Cloud-based music services have yet to really reach a mass audience. Although streaming music providers such as Rhapsody and newer offerings such as MOG are popular with some music fans, others don’t like the holes that exist in their libraries, and many users still prefer to own and keep their music on their own computers rather than relying on the cloud. Apple’s acquisition of music-sharing service Lala, meanwhile, suggests that the company is at least thinking about a cloud-based version of iTunes — but Lala has since been shut down.
In addition to Rhapsody, which was spun off by Real Networks and Viacom (via) earlier this year, Napster (now owned by Best Buy) is also a major player. Spotify, which is popular for its sharing features, is still not available in the U.S., although the company says that it plans a U.S. launch for later this year. Another new competitor in the field is called Rdio, which was recently launched by the founders of Skype, Joost and Kazaa. Google’s new service is expected to be part of the company’s attempts to build more social-networking elements into its online businesses.
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