“Music Dial Tone” or “Music Collection”

Amazon have recently launched their “music in the cloud” service. And Fred Wilson has a short post, saying that subscription/streaming services are the way of the future for music – not stored music, even if the music is stored in the cloud as with Amazon’s service.

Streaming makes intuitive sense in the long term. With a well-stocked streaming service, you could listen to whatever you wanted. Payment could calibrate to your level of enthusiasm for individual pieces – some you listen to just once, some dozens or hundreds of times. You could access the service from any mobile or Internet-connected device. And some services – Spotify, Pandora – have already achieved good traction with music streaming.

So – why isn’t everyone streaming music today?

Part of the reason is certainly the legal / licensing / business-model challenges. Such challenges are the primary reason why Spotify is not available in the United States, for instance.

Yet there is are additional reasons for the continuing dominance of owned, downloaded music. Simply put, a high-quality user experience is easier to guarantee when music is stored locally. There is no risk of streaming interruption, or of being unable to connect – not least, when traveling – which is important because music can be an accompaniment to other activities, giving it a high need for ubiquitous availability. “My music” is unambiguously identified, because I bought it and downloaded it, or at least copied it. I can do what I like with my own music collection, which in the end is just a collection of files. And CDs, live recordings, and other media are all easy to convert to the common format of a digital MP3 collection.

Plus, music is a many-repeats experience. For instance, I bought a couple of Gaslight Anthem albums 6 months ago, and enjoyed them; I can see in iTunes that some of the tracks on those albums have played 70 times in the last 6 months (geeky, I know, but there we are). In this way, streaming music is very different to books, TV shows, or movies, none of which would be repeated 70 times in a lifetime, never mind in 6 months.

Internet radio, including personalized radio stations, could be a near-perfect substitute for conventional radio. And I’m willing to believe that, because streaming is a superior technical solution, it will eventually displace fully-local storage of a person’s music collection. Or perhaps some kind of hybrid, with caching, will emerge.

Nonetheless there are user-experience and user-behaviour artifacts that make music slower to move to a pure-stream delivery model than other forms of entertainment, even before you get to some of the legal/business challenges.

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