The streaming audio marketplace isn’t just about music – Audiobooks is a new service competing for listeners’ ears. This new service competes with Amazon owned Audible.com and offers a cloud based service that lets listeners stream, listen and sync between devices as they move around. One article I read called it “Netflix for audiobooks” and another “Spotify for books”.
The service offers a $24.95 subscription, after an initial free offer, that enables you to stream as many books as you want. It’s a price point that is more expensive than Audible, which offers a tiered rate plan starting at $14.95 for the equivalent of one book a month. Audiobooks has about 10,000 titles in their library.
Some may find the subscription price point a little high, but when compared to the price of books or audiobooks, it’s actually not a high price for consumers looking for more than one book a month. Trade paperbacks these days are around $14.95/month, and hardcovers often cost more than the Audiobooks monthly fee.
The question is, of course, how many subscriptions will users tolerate on a monthly basis? This is the question that no one really has the answer to in the new streaming audio marketplace.
Cloud based streaming of music will be a key digital trend this year, according to a report by eMarketer. Rapid adoption of smartphones, tablets and other connected devices has shifted consumer expectations. Now, consumers expect consumption to be seamless across all of their connected platforms. This creates both a challenge and an opportunity for content providers and advertisers as they move to meet those expectations.
Music is a key example of content that consumers will seek to access mobilely and across multiple devices. Platforms and technologies that give listeners instant access to their music collection on their assortment of devices are perfectly suited to this challenge.
While a large part of the challenge to these online services is to keep listeners happy as they tune in on their collection of devices, that’s precisely the opportunity for streaming music as well. Music collections used to live at home, and then moved onto an ipod, but were purchased, collected and synced by the listener as a physical library. Cloud based music changes all of that, enabling listening to streaming services to replace the purchase of music. Services that allow that – from Pandora to Spotify to Amazon’s and Apple’s cloud services – are increasingly preferred by consumers.
Of course, the challenge in this major shift from purchasing music to streaming it from a service is the revenue, and the question remains whether the services can make money through subscriptions and advertising to cover licensing obligations and survive.
All of these challenges take place within a digital experience that continues to evolve – mobile commerce, targeted ads, privacy and social media are lending to an increasingly sophisticated online marketplace.
Mary Meeker is widely considered to be an expert when it comes to spotting trends online. A partner at venture capitallist firm KPCB, she was named one of the ten smartest people in tech last year by Fortune magazine. She’s a popular speaker and analyst who has a knack for spotting the next big trend in technology. Lately Ms Meeker’s specialty has been mobile and the way it is revolutionizing the way we do everything, from shopping to consuming media.
This week, speaking at Web 2.0, Meeker gave a fast talking presentation about Internet trends. In it, she predicts that the next big thing is online audio. Lots of new technologies are contributing to this emerging trend. For example, she points out that while twitter and facebook have enjoyed enormous success with their mobile apps, it’s Pandora that has the largest percentage of their audience on mobile devices.
Meeker went on to mention new technologies that are driving the new trend, including Bluetooth enabled wireless devices which permit hands free access, higher quality, more compact wireless audio speakers, connected car audio, sound recognition and understanding apps such as Apple’s new Siri, and sound creation and sharing platforms like SoundCloud and Spotify.
The presentation is chock full of great info and perspective on the promise of mobile. There’s plenty of room left for growth for smartphones, mobile ad dollars are ramping up just fine, cpms are ramping too.
What’s more, the US has taken a leadership position in new mobile technology – thanks largely to Apple and Google. Innovation in Silicon Valley has never been more rapid.
And in case you missed this point a few paragraphs ago, Mary Meeker, one of my personal favorites in the biz, said that Online Audio is the next big thing…
You can watch her presentation online here.
This is a guest post by Angus MacDonald, General Counsel at Live365, Inc. regarding a recent court ruling that could have significant impact on the streaming audio industry.
Cloud-based music services can heave a sigh of relief. MP3tunes, the cloud locker service founded by Michael Robertson, scored a partial victory in the copyright litigation brought by EMI. In his August 22nd decision, Judge William H. Pauley III agreed with MP3tunes that the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protected it against many of EMI’s infringement claims. The decision represents a significant victory for other cloud-based music services – such as Google, Amazon and Dropbox – who should have renewed confidence in operating their cloud services without a license. Though the decision sets a beneficial precedent for cloud-based music services generally, it is a mixed result for MP3tunes as the court also found both the company and Robertson liable for copyright infringement on some of EMI’s claims.
MP3tunes allows its users to store music files in personal online storage lockers and then to play those stored files from Internet-connected devices. MP3tunes also operates a second website, Sideload.com, that permits users to search for free song files on third-party websites and then “sideload” those songs, which would be saved to users’ lockers. EMI, along with fourteen record labels and music publishers, filed this lawsuit in November 2007, claiming a laundry list of violations of copyright and unfair competition laws.
Yesterday’s decision turned largely on whether MP3tunes is eligible for the DMCA’s “safe harbor” protection, which shields qualifying online service providers from copyright infringement for content uploaded (or “sideloaded”) by their users. To qualify, online services must follow the rules set forth in the DMCA, including expeditiously responding to takedown notices from copyright holders. The court found that MP3tunes – for the most part – complied with all of the DMCA rules and, therefore, was largely immunized from liability.
However, MP3tunes and Robertson did not completely avoid liability. Shortly before filing this lawsuit, EMI sent MP3tunes three takedown notices that identified specific song titles and URLs to be removed. Although MP3tunes disabled the links to those songs, thereby preventing more users from downloading them, it did not actually delete the songs from the lockers of its users who sideloaded the songs from those links. (MP3tunes claimed that it would be subject to lawsuits by its users if it removed property from users’ lockers.) The court held that MP3tunes did not do enough when it failed to remove the sideloaded songs from users’ lockers.
As for Robertson, the court ruled that Robertson was “directly liable for the songs he personally sideloaded from unauthorized sites.” This finding is somewhat confusing based on the court’s earlier statements that “there is no evidence that MP3tunes executives or employees had firsthand knowledge that websites linked on Sideload.com were unauthorized.”
There are several key-takeaways from this important decision. First, this decision provides significant legal cover for cloud-based music locker services to continue providing their storage and play-back services without obtaining a license. (When Amazon and Google launched their respective cloud services earlier this year, the record labels were “upset” and clamored that licenses were necessary.) While the decision does not specifically address the legality of MP3tunes’ music locker business model or other similar cloud-based services, it is clear that MP3tunes would have completely escaped copyright liability if it had removed the specific songs listed in EMI’s takedown notices from its users’ lockers.
Second, the ruling re-affirms the DMCA as a powerful shield against copyright holders, who claimed that the DMCA did not apply to MP3tunes. As the court observed, “the DMCA does not place the burden of investigation on the Internet service provider.”
Third, the decision appears to let MP3tunes off-the-hook for its storage process, which eliminated duplications of the exact same music files so that only one copy of a particular file would be stored on its servers and then streamed to its users. Google and Amazon took a different approach when they launched their respective services as both companies require every user to upload every song, regardless of whether other users had uploaded identical files, thereby resulting in an enormous consumption of bandwidth and storage space.
Finally, the ruling indicated that playing back songs stored in a user’s digital locker was not a “public performance” requiring a license, contrary to EMI’s contentions. This holding was a natural extension of an earlier decision – commonly referred to as the Cablevision case, which determined that a public performance license was not required for the play-back of television shows that were stored on a remote DVR at the direction of Cablevision’s subscribers.
The EMI v. MP3tunes case, however, is not over. While the decision disposes of some claims, several issues (such as damages) still will need to be tried – unless there is a settlement. The range of damages is $750 is $30,000 per work infringed, and can increase to $150,000 per infringed work if there is a finding of “willful” infringement. Because there are at least 350 works at issue, the damages could exceed $50 million dollars, though that result is highly unlikely. And, barring a settlement, one can certainly expect an appeal of this decision. But, in the meantime, the decision provides some important clarity and leverage for cloud-based storage services that may have been considering the daunting process of negotiating with labels (and other copyright holders) for the right to store and play-back their users’ lawfully-obtained digital files.
A copy of the decision is available here:
Your comments are welcome below. You can reach Angus MacDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Google launched its long rumored cloud based music service on tuesday, calling it Music Beta, a name that signals the tentative nature of the service. It’s likely a response to Amazon Cloud, which hit the market a few weeks ago. Google had been in talks with record labels, trying to strike a deal for its service, but was meeting with lots of resistance. Amazon Cloud launched without record label permissions, boldly claiming that they did not need them.
The service is similar to cloud based streaming music locker services such as MP3Tunes as well as Amazon Cloud. Listeners can upload their personal music collection from one or more computers, any folder or ITunes library; build playlists and keep them in sync; and listen to recently played music offline as well. Missing from the service at this early stage are options to purchase songs, and share music with your personal network. Users can store up to 20,000 songs for free, versus Amazon‘s service which limits free service to 1,000 songs.
Even though it’s clearly temporary, I’m not very impressed with the name Music Beta which is far more hesitant than Amazon’s bold entry with Amazon Cloud. What, they couldn’t think of anything to call it? Music Beta is a branding catastrophe, an automatic do-over later. In the meantime, if you are trying to decide where to upload your ten thousand songs, are you choosing something called Music Beta???
But then again, Google’s history with music projects has been kind of tentative. They launched their last iteration, called Google Music, in October 2009. That initiative offered search for music by band, singer, song, album or lyrics, with results that allowed a full song streamed along with a purchase opportunity and other stuff. It disappeared quietly a while back.
In 2006 Google bought radio ad software company dMarc to launch Google Audio, a platform that tried to sell audio ads on radio stations by tapping into Google’s enormous advertiser base. After a bunch of stops and starts, I think that platform is still in existence, but limping along.
So it’s game-on for cloud based streaming music platforms, with Google, Amazon and MP3Tunes in play and Apple reportedly readying their entry as well. I’m waiting for my invitation to try Music Beta, so that I can come up with the perfect name…