Friday, April 22, 2011

APPLE GETS A CLOUD FOR A MUSIC LOCKER ?

Yep. Apple is planning a cloud-based music locker service, which will let users stream their music, over the Web, to different devices.

Which may sound a lot like what Amazon rolled out last month.

From the music industry’s perspective, however, there’s a big difference: Amazon started its service without getting approval from the big music labels. But Apple is actively seeking licenses for its service, and will pay the labels for the privilege.

And sources tell me that Apple has already procured deals from at least two of the big four labels (Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Sony and EMI) within the last two months. One source tells me Apple content boss Eddy Cue will be in New York tomorrow to try to finalize remaining deals.

“They’ve been very aggressive and thoughtful about it,” says an industry executive. “It feels like they want to go pretty soon.”

Reuters reported earlier today that Apple has “completed work on an online music storage service,” but said the company had not obtained licenses from any labels so far. I’ve asked all four labels for comment; an Apple rep declined to comment.

The industry executives I’ve talked to haven’t seen Apple’s service themselves, but say they’re aware of the broad strokes. The idea is that Apple will let users store songs they’ve purchased from its iTunes store, as well as others songs stored on their hard drives, and listen to them on multiple devices.

Amazon’s service does the same thing, but label executives have argued that a license would allow Apple (or Google, if it moves forward on similar, but stalled, plans) to create a more “robust service” with better user interfaces, sound quality, and other features.

I’ve never understood how a license would affect things like product design, but there’s at least one practical benefit from Apple’s perspective: The deals it is signing will allow it to store a single master copy of a song on its servers, and share that with multiple users.

Amazon’s service, by comparison, works much more like an external hard drive, where users are required to upload a copy of every song they’ll want to get via remote access.

Amazon offers its user a limited amount of storage for free. I don’t know if Apple intends to charge its users for the service, or will absorb the storage and licensing costs on its own.

GOOGLE MUSIC ...Will this ever happen ?

Google has spent a year trying to build a music service that could compete with Apple’s iTunes. But those efforts seem to have stalled again.

Google’s negotiations with the big music labels are “broken,” says a source familiar with the search giant’s thinking: “There’s definitely a problem with the Google music conversations.” Another industry source says Google’s top executives are reconsidering their music plans altogether. “They’ve gone backwards,” I’m told.

That may be news to some corners of the music industry. Google had representatives in New York last week to talk to the labels, and several label executives I’ve spoken to in recent days told me that they believed their negotiations were progressing smoothly and that they felt confident they would strike deals with Google soon.

But others contended that Google has changed its terms in the past few weeks and that has held up negotiations.

Google officials, who have yet to formally acknowledge their music plans in public, haven’t responded to requests for comment. Wayne Rosso, who once ran the file-sharing service Grokster, wrote a blog post earlier this week asserting that Google was “just about at the end of their rope” with the labels.

One issue that could have complicated Google’s discussions with the labels is Amazon’s launch of its own music service last month. The online retailer, which already sells digital music it licenses from the big labels, launched a cloud-based storage service without getting approval from any music owners.

That service is fairly limited, and Google had envisioned a more robust offering with the labels’ participation. But it’s possible to imagine a scenario in which Google launches something similar without label buy-in, too.

In that scenario, Google wouldn’t be able to sell music, but it would at least be able to offer online storage that users could access from their PCs or phones. Lack of a decent music service has been a notable weakness for Google’s Android platform, and Android head Andy Rubin has been the driving force in Google’s music efforts.