What Google Music Might Look Like

A cloud
Jacob Ganz

Some details about Google's long anticipated music store have started to trickle out, thanks to a proposal the company is circulating amongst the major record labels, according to a report from Billboard.biz, the web-based industry news arm of the chart magazine. The service will reportedly include a store where you'll be able to buy single songs or albums, but it wouldn't be Google (and the store wouldn't have much of a reason for existing) if it didn't have something a little new.

The major change from iTunes is that Google's service will allow for a limited amount of streaming. According to the Billboard story, Google's plan involves paying for access to a storage container for streaming music from the cloud. Users who subscribe (the report puts the number at $25 per year) will receive access to a "locker" where they can store the songs they have purchased; or ripped from CD; or downloaded illegally — as long as the service can recognize those songs. Users would then be able to stream the songs that are in their "locker" from any device that could connect to the web.

This is where the labels get involved. Up until this point, it's just a storage service, but to allow streaming, Google has to license music from its owners. Which means going to the record labels and trying to convince them to allow streaming on a massive scale.

The proposal would also allow users to stream songs that aren't in their locker one time each for free. After that, streams will be limited to 30 second samples unless the song is later purchased or uploaded. This feature will sound familiar to users of Lala, a cloud-based music store/service that Apple purchased and then shut down late last year.

Most of the technical questions about the theoretical service are unanswered — no word on how much a la carte songs or albums will cost, or how much storage each user's "locker" will contain. But let's get a little ahead of ourselves anyway: if the labels agree to the proposal, we could start to see Google emerge as a major player in the digital music sales arena — a possible real competitor to Apple's iTunes, and the muscle that the internet needs to make cloud-based listening a part of everyone's life (for those of you who think this sounds far-fetched, think about the success Google has had convincing Gmail users to abandon their hard drives in favor of web-based document and calendar storage).

It feels funny to ask this question, but do you have any attachment to your mp3s? Would you feel any pain moving to a system of access independent of ownership?

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