Analysis

Speculation swirls about Google subscription-music announcement tonight


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3-29-androidsThat hackneyed ‘Spotify-killer’ phrase was dusted down last night with a flurry of rumours that Google is ready to unveil at least one of its planned subscription-music services tonight, during the keynote session at its I/O developer conference.

The Verge’s Greg Sandoval started the fire with his claim that Google has signed licensing deals with UMG and Sony for both its upcoming services – one from Google Play and one from YouTube.

The New York Times then followed with its own report, claiming that it’s the Play-branded service that’ll be unveiled tonight, offering on-demand streaming music likely to cost $10-a-month, but with no free tier (according to the newspaper’s sources).

Billboard is also on the rumour-bandwagon, adding that WMG is also signed up for the new service. Three majors on board may be the trigger for a public announcement, but none of the reports sheds light on the status of deals with indie labels or publishers.

We’ve written before about the appeal of a digital music service with Android at its core: Google has activated more than 750m Android devices so far, is currently adding 1.5m more every day, and according to Gartner accounted for three quarters of smartphone sales in the first quarter of 2013.

As funnels for a subscription music service go, Android is a biggie. Yet you could say the same about Google Play as a music downloads store, but nobody (yet) is shouting about how big an impact that’s made on digital music sales.

Android is the dominant platform in the smartphones market, but if it has an Achilles Heel, it’s the difficulty Google has persuading those users to pay for content. That’s something Android app developers have been finding out: the platform is very lucrative for a handful of (mainly Japanese and Korean) freemium games developers, with others still seeing iOS as a better bet for selling content.

Yet it’s Apple whose upcoming streaming music service is expected to be free and ad-supported, and Google’s which is tipped to be paid-only. It’s a curious world we live in.

Stuart Dredge

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