Google Music will offer downloadable music

Google (GOOG) on Wednesday launched an Internet music sales service in partnership with three major record companies in a move to make its Android smartphones and tablets as central to the music business as Apple’s (AAPL) iPhones and iPads.

The Google Music service, which is expect to be exported to other countries soon, will compete directly with Apple and Amazon. It will sell music to consumers and allow them to access songs from any PC or Android-based mobile device. but the new Google service goes two steps farther — it allows users to listen to songs with friends on the new Google+ social network, and it lets independent artists sell their music directly to customers through Google’s Android Market.

“Google Music is about discovering, purchasing and sharing music in new, innovative and personalized ways,” Jamie Rosenberg, Google’s head of digital content and strategy for Android, said in announcing the new service in Los Angeles.

Google’s big record label partners — Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and EMI Music — hope that by allowing the owners of many of the 200 million existing Android devices to download music the way iPod, iPhone and iPad owners can, they will increase the flow of money to the troubled recording industry.

A music store integrated with the Android phones and tablets will also address perhaps the most glaring gap between Google’s Android devices and Apple’s iPhone and iPad, increasing Android’s attractiveness to phone manufacturers and wireless carriers, analysts said, as well as boosting Google+.

“It’s something (Google) absolutely had to do,” said Tom Mainelli, an analyst who follows the mobile market for research firm IDC. “It certainly makes Google and all of their partners on those devices, be it phones or media tablets, it makes them much more viable as they try to compete with Apple and Amazon.”

The service will sell individual song downloads for 99 cents from Google’s Android Market. a Google Music account at music.google.com will allow users from any PC or Android-based mobile device to upload, store and stream up to 20,000 songs they either already own or have purchased. There is no charge to use that storage and streaming service.

Google Music will initially offer buyers access to a catalog of 8 million songs from its partnership with Sony, Universal, EMI and other independent labels, but that library is expected to grow to 13 million tracks in the next few months. Google failed to finalize a deal with the fourth major label, Warner Music Group, whose artists include such major names as Eric Clapton, Green Day, Dire Straits, Linkin Park, and R.E.M.

“The question nobody has answered is how well tracks will sell in the Android Market compared to the iTunes market,” said Brian Zisk, executive producer of the SF MusicTech Summit. “Launching without Warner, and their 20 percent of songs that people actually listen to, is much more interesting than the fact that they have a lot of this long tail (more obscure) stuff.”

Still, Zisk said, Android’s huge share of the smartphone market — about 53 percent of smartphones sold in the third quarter of 2011 were Android phones, according to Gartner — means Google has greatly expanded the number of people who can easily download music to their smartphone.

“The real question is, does this expand the marketplace?” Zisk said. “And my hunch is, it very well might because people aren’t buying music like when we were kids, and you’d buy an album and it was a prized possession.”

Google plans to sweeten the attraction to the fledgling service by offering some unique free content, including access to concerts and other recordings by the Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews and Shakira that aren’t available elsewhere.

But analysts said the social feature of the new service through Google+ was perhaps its most intriguing new feature because it will allow anyone buying music from the new service to share one complete listen of that song to everyone who follows them on Google’s social network. Their Google+ connections could then buy the song from a link within their social network stream.

The issue for Google is how it will drive traffic to its music store, said Michael McGuire, an analyst with Gartner. Google, he said, needs to prove it can match Apple and Amazon “at making it very easy for you, me and other consumers to give them money.”

Google has grown far beyond its original identity as a search engine that carried users to the websites of content providers; the Mountain View company is increasingly getting into the direct sale of content. Google in May began offering Hollywood movies for rent in the Android Market, with prices starting at $1.99 to stream movies to an Android smartphone or tablet. Google also has an online electronic book-selling service.

Rob Wells, an executive with Universal Music Group, called the deal “groundbreaking on a number of levels. we expect it to be a rich new revenue stream for our artists. we are very excited about the global rollout of the platform.”

Contact Mike Swift at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/swiftstories.

Google Music will offer downloadable music


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