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Is iTunes going to be made obsolete by Google Music, the upcoming cloud-based service from the internet superpower?
iTunes may have met its match

Billboard magazine, one of the oldest and deepest entrenched music magazines, is citing multiple sources as having revealed secret details of Google's upcoming music service.

The new Google Music comes at a price -- $25 a year to be precise -- but it makes Apple's iTunes (in its current implementation) look like a dinosaur.  First the basics; the service will offer direct digital downloads much like Apple.

An album download will reportedly generally cost $7.  Most tracks will cost 70 cents, "superstar tracks" will cost 91 cents, and "catalog tracks" will cost 49 cents.

Your $25 subscription fee comes with a free online music "locker" -- a secure storage site in the cloud – in which you will be able to place your purchases.  From there they can stream your music to any compatible internet connected computer or device.  

The size of the locker was not revealed to the sources.

If that feature is not enough to make Apple blush, this will as well -- Google will be offering a one-time 
full preview, reportedly of every track in its library, similar to what did before Apple acquired it, killing the full-length previews.  Full previews certainly outdo iTunes 20 second previews of 4 minute tracks.

The app for the service would reportedly be entirely web-based, so you don't have to worry about installing pesky applications on your machines.  Additionally Google is reportedly planning on including a mild social network/song sharing service, similar to Apple's new Ping network, with Google Music.

And the biggest upside of all for Google is that the company obviously has vastly more ability to redirect internet traffic to its service than Apple.  While Apple can boast reaching hundreds of millions of users with its iDevices, Google can literally boast reach over a 
billion users worldwide.

The biggest trouble spot for Google, according to the report, is shaping up to be reticence from music labels.  Some industry officials called the proposal "a good start", but others promised that it would see resistance particularly on the issue of track costs and previews.

According to the sources Google's proposal calls for a "50-50" revenue split between master rights holders and Google, with music publishers receiving a 10.5% share.  It's unclear if that 10.5 percent is deducted before the split, or if it will come out of one of the two parties' shares.

The sources say Google is seeking to lock labels into a 3-year contract from the launch of the service in terms of pricing and features agreements.

Users would also be able to use their web app to scan their hard drives and upload files to their music locker -- including music from other services (iTunes, Rhapsody, etc.), songs ripped from CDs (which the RIAA contends is "stealing"), and even songs obtained from P2P networks.  The latter is a thorny issue in the negotiations for labels, but they reportedly realize that it may be inevitable and are pushing Google to, in return, tighten restrictions on its search results to filter out P2P software and torrent sites.

It remains to be seen how music labels ultimately react to the proposal, but planned service certainly sounds like a good deal for customers.  And with music labels already fed up with Apple, they may begrudgingly embrace Google's terms as the lesser of two evils (in their eyes).  Armed with superior technology and brand reach, it might finally put an end to the era of iTunes reigning supreme in the world of digital music sales.

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It's a start
By Visual on 9/21/2010 3:45:41 AM , Rating: 2
One-time preview isn't all that great, but it's a start.
I'm quite curious about what portion of the songs' prices actually reach the artists, and will the statistics for number of purchases per song, album, artists be publicly viewable.

I'm imagining the future to be for unlimited and unrestricted listening to anything you want, with the option to pay just to support the artist if you want, a way of "vote" for them or the particular song, with charts based on the amounts of such "votes" versus the amount of "freebie" plays as a measure of a song's worthiness, etc.
Big names will see a big amount of unpaying listeners, but I doubt their income would decrease significantly because fans will inevitably be paying much more than the music costs right now just to make their favorite "win" the charts, etc. And for small indie ones that are currently forced to release a lot of their work for free just to get some popularity, this will be a big win both as a promotion and financially. As a grand total the music market will most probably grow a lot because of the sense of freedom and usefulness of the made payments for the artists themselves, especially if it is known publicly that the major portion of those money do reach the artist as opposed to some record company.
Finding good music will be much easier with being able to see which songs other people value more, being able to try out anyone's recommendations freely, etc.

But it will be quite a while till we get there. There will initially need to appear a way to easily pay and "rate" the music like I described, for any song that you hear on the radio or where ever. That will eventually convince the artists that this is the way to go, and the unrestricted listening will also come around.
And no, looking up the band's site and eventual 'donate' button or whatever is not a good replacement.

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