The Pleasure Principle

Another day, another cloud-based service. Another day, another music service launches. Double-whammy, we get Amazon’s new music service, Cloud Player. Too little, too late.
Cloud-based media storage or ‘digital lockers’ are nothing new.  They’ve been attempted and sporadically available since the bubble-climaxing-fin de siècle-cum-Y2K panic that finally bottomed out during the 2000-20002 technology sector crash.

I worked on a new consumer-based media ‘anytime-anywhere-any platform’ venture back in the Fall of 2000.  Think back for a moment to that time. The iPod wouldn’t exist for another year, digital cameras were still a luxury from a price perspective, smart phones were in the works, but nothing had seen the light of day yet. Blogging had just begun, but ‘social networking’ had not quite arrived.

Here we were, a team funded internally, to see what we could make of this vague concept of consuming personal media anytime, anywhere, on any device.  There’s a paper that speaks to the process as a case study, so I won’t bore you with the details.

Suffice to say, we had a rock star team of open-minded strategists, technologists and designers who turned the concept into a business model and plan, and a functional prototype across three platforms, including television.

The only downside was timing. This was a couple of months before the ultimate downturn that would have VCs swear off their next startup until the next upswing. So, the business lay dormant for months and, finally,  years.  Incarnations of it would appear as this type of service, or that, but nothing nearly as holistic and expansive as what we constructed.

Fast forward to 2011. Amazon announces its Cloud Player.  Apple still has not really integrated LaLa into iTunes yet. Google is of course brewing up something.  I’m sorry, it’s 2011, where have you guys been?  Focused on your SEO and shaking in your boots about a Harvard kid building the next thing?  Get real.

Others have paved the way. While some may come to rely on Amazon, trusted family name that it is, and others may check out Google’s music experience, whenever that comes to light, they will all fail to gain significant market share. Why? Because they’ve fallen behind, among other things.

Apple? I’m a fan boi as much as anyone, but have growing disillusionment with their cult of secrecy and increasingly walled garden approach. Not to mention the fact that Apple fails miserably at enabling access to their distributed media within and across regions.

I’ve considered purchasing an Apple TV, but never followed through because of the lock-in.  Instead, I bought a Mac Mini, which I use as a central media hub connected to my living room TV.  All open, all of the time.

One last increasingly significant player to mention. Spotify.  Already big in Europe and a growing threat to the US market. I’d wager Spotify will dominate, not just in Europe but in the US as well, when it finally launches there.

Here’s why:

For 10 GBP a month, I have unlimited, commercial-free access to nearly every recording artist that’s ever made anything. True, it will not cover idiosyncratic mixes of Burmese dragonflies, or the baroque-sounding chaos of dot matrix printers singing in chorus, but that’s what record browsing in physical stores is for.

For all the rest, there’s Spotify.  To boot, for a premium membership, I’m able to access the service globally, outside of national borders.  And add music to my iPhone to consume offline. Ten pounds is suddenly a bargain!

Spotify integrates with my social graph. The absolute icing on the cake: I don’t have to manage anything.  Please, please VC’s, product owners, designers, and tech friends,  stop making everyone manage their media.

Ten years of iPod experience, failed attempts at digitizing our increasingly exhaustive music library (CDs, SACDs, vinyl, minidiscs, and cassettes) and horrific DRM has put a slight chip on my shoulder. Okay, a big one.

Media management is work. It’s like scrolling through an endless EPG in the hopes of finding something relevant on TV.  By the time you do, your time for relaxing to a movie or program is over.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say,  “I don’t want to manage my media.” I want to enjoy consuming it. Though many people find archiving and managing their media fun, I never imagined digital file management to be part of my pleasure principle.

Find, play, share, download for offline and create a playlist (if you’re really, really inspired.)  Otherwise, don’t make the effort. It’s just too much work.

Spotify for the masses.  And by the way, this is not paid placement.  I’d love to see Apple, Google, and Amazon really, truly compete.

I don’t think the ability to innovate with a music service is in Apple’s DNA anymore.  Cupertino took the reins for 10 years, but kept a tight lid on what could be.  Google? Spread too thin… and Amazon… perhaps if they can take the work out of it, include sharing, and factor in the global angle. Then, Amazon may be a contender.

However, right now, Spotify’s my best friend for-almost-ever.

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