Billboard and Hypebot both had articles this week speculating who Google may be calling to lead their music initiative. Surprisingly, my name was on the lists and I had more than a few inquiries hit my mailbox asking how I felt about it.
Rest assured, I can happily report I’m not leaving Topspin for Google or any place else (and hopefully the Topspin board feels the same!). Google is certainly an interesting company and I’d love to see how they compare to my AOL and Yahoo! experience — I actually get a kick out of seeing how these big companies run (or don’t, as the case may be), but there is nothing on my mind at the moment aside from working with the killer Topspin team to build the marketing and retail platform used by every professional in the music business. While I know many entrepreneurs who have vowed to never pour their energy into the unforgiving abyss of digital music again (y’all know who you are!), this business is my passion and I plan on being a part of it one way or another for the rest of my life. As such it’s a huge honor to see my name on a list of “top anything” in the world of nerds and music. Thanks again Antony and Bruce for the kind words, I’ll try my hardest to live up to them.
I don’t like underestimating Google, but in this case I’m afraid I haven’t heard anything particularly interesting about their music initiative. I’d love to be wrong and find out they’re going a different route but from the news reports it sounds like they’re just going knocking on doors looking to license content for streaming and download. Yawn. Maybe they’ll finally integrate Simplify and free your personal collection into the cloud. Anyone remember Muse.Net circa 2003? Yeah, that. Couple that with the fact the Android team is driving this initiative and it sounds like you have a check-box marketing feature for Android (you can’t compete with Apple without a killer music experience) and not a “Google is going to change the music industry they way they are changing the book industry” scenario. I’m not saying it won’t be big and important, Android is quickly becoming a killer platform, I’m just saying it’s not progressive enough to be interesting to me personally, and I’d expect more from a company as known for changing industries as Google is. There’s a big difference between *really* picking a fight in an industry that needs it as much if not more than any other, one that would be a precursor to the future of movies and other content, and just pulling together a me-too service to bring their mobile platform to feature parity.
Instead of contacting an increasingly fragmented population of rights owners and asking for permission to access their content with a cumbersome set of attached strings I wish Google would build a valuable ecosystem content owners *want* to include their content in — they are a company who could start with the demand, not the supply. Build the inputs and outputs into the marketplace: rights owners upload and manage their own content, set the rules, give access to content to any app (including the Android app) willing to play by the rules. Take what MusicNet and 7digital have done with their APIs a step further, let the market determine what it’s willing to spend to utilize the content in their apps, give value in the ecosystem to cheap/free content and let rights owners charge as much as they think their content is worth (the ecosystem will determine if that content is the price is appropriate by whether or not it gets utilized). Topspin would *love* to participate in a marketplace like this and we could even add some interesting product bundling (merchandise, CDs, vinyl, tickets — all self-serve from the artist perspective) to the mix. THIS would be a very interesting play against Apple in my opinion, a licensed streaming and paid download store, less so. I get why it’s a fine feature for Android, and why Google has avoided music in the past, but I’m still disappointed Google isn’t taking a path which alters the course of digital music more.
Speaking of Google, I’ve been thinking a lot about Facebook vs. Google lately. At Topspin we’ve been digging in to what’s possible with the Facebook Like ecosystem and I have to say it’s an absolutely brilliant move. Sinister, in its way, but brilliant. For those who haven’t looked deeply into it, when Facebook changed “Fan” to “Like” across the site they also made it possible to “Like” any page on the Interwebz. So not only are they grabbing knowledge that you “Like” the Bed Intruder (who doesn’t?) but they might know that you “Like” Topspin or even this blog.
So what? Once upon a time Google came out of nowhere with a way better search engine, right? That search engine was better because of PageRank, an algorithm which used publisher intent (via what text linked where) to better rank search results. Now Facebook has their network of 500 million people expressing their like of pages across the Web. Add this data to a search engine and imagine how results might improve or simply get more interesting by showing you results ranked highly by your social group.
But the real fun starts when Facebook takes their ad network off of Facebook. They already have more than $1B (annually) running through their ad network on their pages alone. If they make that network available to publishers I could buy ads targeted at employees of major labels reading “You’re working more albums with less resources — Topspin can help” not only ON Facebook but across the Web. Imagine if you could add “on these sites” to all the other great targeting you can do with Facebook ads (Likes, employment, geo, demo, etc).
Sorry no comment on Ping yet, still haven’t spent any time with it. What do y’all think? Comments on any of the above welcome.