Sony’s Spotify partnership shows me-too services don’t pay

Are you a PlayStation user? The Sony’s got a music service for you. Again. Except, this time, it’s not its own: Sony announced a new partnership with Spotify Wednesday that brings Spotify’s music service to PlayStation users in 41 markets around the world. At the same time, Sony is shuttering its Music Unlimited service, which had been trying to compete with Spotify and others in 19 countries.

This isn’t the first time Sony failed at music: The company was amongst the first to try its hand at music subscriptions with Pressplay, a music service jointly launched with Universal Music in 2001, but sold to a third party in 2003. The company went on to launch a music download store dubbed Connect in 2004, which was supposed to bring digital music downloads to the company’s portable music players. Those didn’t sell, so Sony closed Connect in 2008.

Those two failures didn’t stop Sony from trying again in 2010, this time with a service curiously called Qriosity that was soon after rebranded as Sony Music Unlimited. This service, which will now close on March 29, was closely tied to Sony’s game console, with a Sony representative telling me a year ago that PS4 users made up for close to 40 percent of all streams.

But in the end, Sony Music Unlimited was just one more service to offer what all of its competitors already have: The same 30-plus million tracks from all the major and most indie labels, delivered at the same price, with the same all-you-can-eat value proposition.

The only thing that differentiated Sony from the rest of the pack was its access to PlayStation users. As a platform gatekeeper, it could make sure that no one else was competing with it. Or so it thought. But that’s not how the world works anymore.

Users want to access their services across multiple platforms. For music, mobile really is first. Connected speakers are quickly gaining steam as well, and automotive integration could be a major factor in the future.

But owning one of those device platforms and building a me-too service that just does what popular competitors offer elsewhere isn’t enough. Sony isn’t the only company to realize this. Samsung shuttered its paid music service earlier this year, and lots of other hardware vendors, including Nokia and Blackberry, have shut down their music services over the past few years as well.

One of the last ones standing is Microsoft with Xbox Music. But Satya Nadella’s cost-cutting course already put a halt to the company’s ambitious Xbox video production plans, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if we see the company shut down its music service soon as well.