Despite all of the great innovation happening in online music, there are 3 frustrating things for consumers that need to be addressed by Apple, Google, Facebook and others.
It's been an eventful week for online music, with the launch of Apple's iTunes Match and the public unveiling of Google Music (along with a new MP3 store in the Android Market). This follows on from continued innovation in the music streaming market, in particular the integration of Spotify and similar services into Facebook. It's great to see so much action in the online music space. But... there are some major problems with these services. Here are the top three issues, in my opinion.
1. Geographic Lockouts
The three biggest product updates in online music over the past month all have one thing in common: most of the world cannot use these products. Facebook's integration of Spotify and other streaming services; Apple's iTunes Match; Google Music (at least when it comes to the new MP3 store, which is a big part of the appeal for Google Music).
With iTunes Match, Google's new MP3 store and Amazon's MP3 store, you have to be a resident of the U.S. in order to use them. As for the streaming services, they too have limited reach. Spotify for example is only available in certain European countries and in the USA. This means that Facebook's integration of streaming music services isn't available to a large proportion of its 800 million user base. To put some numbers around that, more than 75% of Facebook users live outside of the USA. That's 600 million people, most of whom probably cannot access the streaming music features.
This frustrating state of affairs is of course due to the music industry. Record labels are trying desperately to hold onto the reins of power with licensing terms that are outdated and differ across countries. The whole point of the World Wide Web is to give people across the entire world equal opportunities to create and consume content. Yet a large percentage of the Web is denied the chance to use these wonderful new online music services.
OK, this is a first world problem and certainly not something to do a Live Aid about. All I'm saying is that I don't live in the U.S. and I'm extremely frustrated that I cannot use most of the best online music services.
2. Inconsistent User Experience
If you're fortunate enough to be able to use these services in the first place, you'll have noticed many flaws in the user experience.
Facebook's integration of Spotify and other streaming music services, labeled frictionless sharing, posts every single song you listen to onto your Facebook news feed. While it requires the user to turn this functionality on, the problem is in the lack of granular control. Once you turn it on, there's no way you can tell Facebook: just publish the songs that make me look cool to my friends. Or: don't post that I'm listening to Justin Bieber. It posts everything, like it or not.
Google Music has some user experience oddities too, which Danny Sullivan outlined in full. He also pointed out similar issues with iTunes and Spotify. In my own limited testing of Google Music (through a VPN) I found it odd that I could not share music to Google+ that I had uploaded myself. Yet I could share a song I'd gotten through the Android Market.
Then consider the differences in sharing functionality in Facebook and Google+. In Facebook the music sharing is automatic and all-encompassing. In Google+, it's restricted and a manual process. Two opposite ends of the sharing spectrum - and plenty of differences in-between, among Facebook, Google+ and many other sharing services.
In some ways this is just what you get with intense competition, but on the other hand I hope best practices evolve over time for music sharing. So that I can share any song I want to, in roughly the same manner, across any social network.
3. Your Music Is All Over The Place
Related to the user experience problem is the fact that one's music is becoming difficult to manage, because there are so many different ways to listen to and/or buy music (again, assuming you even have access to the services).
Say I download a song from the Android Store; it now lives in my Google Music app. Sure I can sync it to iTunes or wherever I like. But it requires manual set-up or action. You'll quickly lose track of where all of your music is.
Or say that I discover a brilliant new album on Spotify. I listen to it a few times, then I move on to other music. But I never bought that album, so I don't own it. That's all well and good, but if I use iTunes as my primary music store then I don't have that album there. Sure I can just buy it, but I've already listened to it a few times and I may not listen to it again for months or even years. Besides, if I've stumped up for a monthly subscription to Spotify then I may not feel inclined to shell out more money for that particular album. My point is: some of your music now lives in a local app like iTunes, some is on a service like Spotify, some you may have discovered on Google+, and so on. It's all over the place and you're relying on a bunch of apps and services now.
While sync services like iTunes Match help with some of this (particularly listening to your music across devices), it's going to be a challenge to figure out where your music should 'live' and what music you still want to 'own'. This isn't as big of a problem as the above two issues, but it's still something that Apple, Google and co should help their users manage.
Those are my current three gripes with the online music services. The biggest for me is the geographic restrictions. What's your main beef - if any - with this new wave of online music services?