Google (NAS: GOOG) officially unveiled its much-rumored digital music storefront Wednesday afternoon, vowing complete integration with its cloud-based Google Music streaming service, which concurrently exited beta.
Google Music automatically syncs each user's entire digital music library across all their connected devices -- consumers can also select specific artists, albums and playlists for offline listening. The new store gives customers the latitude to purchase individual songs or complete albums via the web or any device running Google's Android mobile operating system, with all premium content instantly added to their Google Music library. In addition, consumers can share a free full play of all purchased songs with their contacts across the Google+ social networking platform, which now tops 40 million users.
The Google Music store launches with more than 13 million tracks, including content from three of the four major labels: Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and EMI. Only Warner Music Group is MIA. Earlier this week, reports stated Google had sewn up a deal with Universal, but that the other majors remained holdouts. Google Music also features premium content from global independent rights agency Merlin and more than 1,000 indie labels including Merge Records, Warp Records, Matador Records, XL Recordings and Naxos. Independent digital distributors like IODA, INgrooves, The Orchard and Believe Digital are also participating.
Google Music also goes live with a series of digital exclusives highlighted by the Rolling Stones' Brussels Affair (Live, 1973), an official, remastered 15-track concert set capturing the band at the peak of its powers. Additional exclusives include a free Pearl Jam gig recorded in Toronto on Sept. 11, 2011, live EPs from Coldplay and Shakira, Busta Rhymes' new single "Why Stop Now" and two free Dave Matthews Band live albums.
Google Music also brings tools enabling established and up-and-coming recording artists to distribute and sell digital content directly to consumers. "With the Google Music artist hub, any artist who has all the necessary rights can distribute his or her own music on our platform, and use the artist hub interface to build an artist page, upload original tracks, set prices and sell content directly to fans -- essentially becoming the manager of their own far-reaching music store," writes Google's senior vice president of mobile Andy Rubin.
In conjunction with the Google Music rollout, T-Mobile USA will offer subscribers with devices running Android 2.2 and above exclusive free content each week, beginning with new tracks from Drake and Maroon 5. T-Mobile also plans to introduce direct operator billing for Google Music purchases. On the T-Mobile USA blog, senior vice president of marketing Andrew Sherrard states that more than half of the company's subscribers play music on their smartphones, about a third of them doing so every day.
Google initially launched Music Beta in May 2011. Because the service arrived without licensing agreements, consumers were blocked from sharing songs with friends or purchasing premium downloads from Google. Major label executives have indicated that Music Beta talks broke down earlier this year because they felt Google failed to properly address their piracy concerns. The New York Times recently stated that Google's expanded plans still left doubts about content security: "We want to make sure [Music Beta's web-based music storage] locker doesn't become a bastion of piracy," one senior-level label exec said. In addition, Warner Music reportedly believes Google's financial terms are unacceptable, which would explain its ongoing absence from the platform.
Rubin recently said Google has struggled to come to terms with the labels because media companies in general have been unable to reconcile their perception of the Google platform with what it is becoming. "Google is in the very, very early phases of adding consumer products to our portfolio," Rubin said. "The media industry didn't see us as that. They saw us a search company."
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