Search engine giant Google officially re-launched "Google Play," a music streaming feature, on the web Wednesday. It’s coming to Android and iOS this week. The launch comes days ahead of the launch of Apple Music, but industry experts have already expressed uncertainty on Google's strategy entering the crowded marketplace, with its main music platform being YouTube right now.
In the free version of Google Play, available only in the United States for now, users can listen to curated playlists customized by the time of the day and various activities. However users cannot control which song is playing within the playlist, although they can skip six songs per hour. The service is made free through with ads interspersed between the songs.
Google Play also has a subscription-based service that gives users access to over 30 million songs, along with music videos and playlists for $9.99 per month, and users can save up to 50,000 purchased songs. In terms of overall characteristics, Google Play seems to be taking its cues from Pandora while Apple Music appears to be more like Spotify.
Google acquired Songza, the supporting platform for Google Play, one year ago. The New York Times reported the deal came at the price of $39 million for Google. At the time of the acquisition Google announced, “We aren't planning any immediate changes to Songza, so it will continue to work like usual for existing users. Over the coming months, we’ll explore ways to bring what you love about Songza to Google Play Music.”
Apple Music will also launch a music streaming service at the end of June. Apple’s newest venture has received substantial attention after news broke that the company was not going to pay artists during the three-month free trial period offered for users. An open letter from artist Taylor Swift led the company to switch their policy, and agree to pay the artists and producers during the trial period.
Google Play is entering a music streaming market already populated with other players, including Spotify and Pandora. Spotify currently boasts 20 million paying subscribers, over 75 million active users, and is currently available in 58 markets around the world. Pandora cited 77 million active users in 2014, and is available in the US, New Zealand, Australia, and territories of those countries.
What does the addition of Google Play to the music-streaming marketplace say about the music industry?
In 2013, Billboard reported that iTunes saw a decrease in digital music sales for the first time in the history of the company.
Weekly album sales reached new lows in 2014 as well, dropping below 4 million cumulative sales a week in August 2014. Hard copy CD sales from mass retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target also experienced a heavy decline in sales, dropping 16.3 percent in 2014 to hold about a quarter of the market.
That same year, streaming services outpaced CD sales for the first time. This comes in stark contrast to 2010, when more than half of the market was taken up by sales of music in physical format, such as vinyl records and CDs.