Facebook's big music announcement this week has many hypothesizing about the future of music sharing. Many of these discussions focus on the need for imposing our (sometimes silly) tastes on others in real time. Some call it innovative, others an involuntary oversharing mechanism. But we're more interested in the conflicts behind the smoke and mirrors; in all of these discussions, Spotify is the dominant streaming service mentioned, despite MOG's tenure as a strikingly similar service, rooted in America long before Spotify. Everyone is concerned with the hows of sharing, but no one is asking the larger question of why? Will we still be using these streaming services in ten years?
MOG recently announced a counterpoint to the rampant Spotihype gripping the nation, their own version of a freemium music service catered towards hesitant adopters. It runs on a "FreePlay tank", a meter that replenishes with plays and refills as a reward for sharing with friends via social networks. For now, it's ad-free (the first 60 days of the service will feature an uninhibited experience). The free tier will compliment the already existing MOG service, a great tactic for increasing MOG awareness and keeping up in the streaming arms race (against relative newcomers like Spotify). But it still fails to combat the one main problem with streaming services: the American mentality is heavily slanted towards "ownership is better", especially when it comes to entertainment like music.
The benefits of MOG are easy to see, with forward thinking HTML 5 integration and a more dynamic playlist/MOG Radio feature than Spotify, MOG is a notably different service. Visually, MOG is definitely a more rich experience, boasting a web-app as well as a desktop client for Macs and a mobile app. MOG is also connected to an ad network and a ton of music blogs, not to mention much more useful Pandora-like tools for discovery than simply relying on personal knowledge and friend/celebrity playlists. Both MOG and Spotify boast impressive legally licensed libraries. It really comes down to preferred user experience and the hype-factor, the latter of which has aided Spotify's entrance into the US market, but doesn't mean anything in the long run.
But what if one prefers to own instead of rent? And what about the trust issues associated with the cloud? Recent research has heavily suggested
several inherent barriers to entry in the streaming circuit. In an eMusic survey of 1000 music fans, 86% of consumers prefer to own their music due to a "fear of losing access". 91% said they prefer ownership to streaming due to limitations. Others said they'd use streaming services as a way to sample music but never as a permanent replacement for their libraries. Think about it; Rhapsody, a Viacom property and one of the earliest streaming subscription services, has been around for almost ten years, only to amass a laughable user base of around 800,000. Spotify's incorporation of native iTunes libraries is quick and easy, but iTunes playlists are cumbersome to synchronize more than once, and multiple libraries across computers can make access too tricky to keep up with. Spotify is not an efficient cloud storage system, making other options like Google and the iCloud more attractive to those who already maintain a large music collection (and would like ubiquitous access). Labels have been pulling out of Spotify due to low payouts, and even though they are relatively small components of the library in the grand scheme, the loss is a bad look for Spotify.
This fear of losing access only gets amplified with hardcore music lovers. Although die-hard fans are most likely willing to pay for high quality audio and mobile access, they are also the most ardent about access and ownership being a necessity for their collections. Subscription services have to do more than offer free samples to win the trust of the most active music consumers, especially with all the bad noise about small payouts to artists.
Still, there is value in having instant access to a deep, high-quality back catalog of music at any time; sometimes, you just don't own a song and don't necessarily want to, either. As a supplement to one's own coveted native library, streaming services fill in the gaps, both in extraneous albums and in sharing across social networks. And for the casual listener, streaming services can provide a more seamless method of obtaining/discovering and enjoying new music instantly, without cumbersome searching, reading, and ultimately purchasing.
Both MOG and Spotify have tapped into Facebook, easily the biggest rolodex of consumers on the planet. And with Facebook's new real-time music sharing features (announced at F8 yesterday), the stakes for one dominant streaming service have been raised. MOG will be tied to Facebook's new ticker music sharing, although they were left out of the initial talks about it. And beyond the new real-time sharing of tracks, Spotify has an intuitive, easy to set-up playlist sharing function. You can browse what your friends are listening to, in an easy to read format, all in the desktop app. Ubiquitous access to the world's music is infinitely more valuable when it becomes a shared experience. "Word of mouth" (so to speak) at its digital finest.
Just as Facebook and Google Plus will continue on without one clear "winner" in the social sphere, so too will music downloads and subscription services continue to provide options to a varied consumer base long after the dust settles on the "we're the future" arguments. But when it comes down to MOG and Spotify duking it out for streaming supremacy, the key will be user experience, and forever married to that is social media integration.