Music Locker Service – A Primer

Amazon beat Apple and Google in the race to launch a music locker service by launching its Music Cloud Player for the web and Android. This is a primer for anyone who wants to understand what the fuss is all about.

What is it?

A place ‘in the cloud’ to store all your digital music. You get streaming access to all purchased music from any device. At this time, it is not clear if the locker will allow you to download your songs from the locker to any device. My guess is that if you bought the song from the company that’s providing the locker service, you could download it as many times as you time on as many devices as you want.

Amazon’s service allows new purchases from Amazon to be added to the cloud automatically. If you want to add your existing collection to the cloud, you will have to do it manually through an uploader provided by Amazon.

Who will offer this service?

All eyes are focused on three companies to roll out this service some time during 2011 – Google, Apple and Amazon. Other companies will likely jump in the fray but given their traditional strengths and ability to scale, the big three will define the future of digital music.

Now that Amazon has launched its service, expect Google and Apple to roll their services out soon.

What is in it for Google, Apple, Amazon?

Apple wants to offset the advances made in recent years by players (pun!) like Pandora, Spotify and Rdio, that allow access to music from any device. Google and Amazon are getting in the fray because their previous attempts at competing with Apple’s iTunes store have failed. They want to take another shot at carving out a piece of Apple’s lion share of the digital music market.

What’s in it for the music labels?

Music labels believe they are having their arms twisted by Apple, given iTunes dominant position in the market. They think they will get better terms if other big players compete against Apple. They may also be hoping that easy and ubiquitous availability of music may make music piracy not worth the hassle.

Open questions:

Would these services allow storage of songs that have been purchased through other services? If yes, how would the locker service identify that the song copy is legal?

Based on what we have seen of the Amazon Cloud Player, there is no way to check if you are uploading legal content.

What pricing options would they offer?

These services could offer a combination of pricing options that are currently distributed across multiple services – songs for download at a price (iTunes), free streaming of purchased songs (erstwhile LaLa which was bought and shut down by Apple), ad-supported streaming of songs (Pandora) that have not been purchased, tiered premium plans to stream songs that have not been purchased (Rdio, Spotify).

Amazon seems to have stayed away from streaming non-purchased content. It’s charging for song downloads and space to store your collection on the cloud. They have plans starting from 5 GB (free) to 1000 GB ($1000).