Google Music's launch event Wednesday revealed a strong product, emphasizing partnership with artists and labels - a good match for the company's cloud and mobile ambitions. Still, some question marks remain.
Given the company's reach, Google Music has the difficult task of being all things to all people. Being too hip could drive away the middle-of-the-road consumers who make up the bulk of Google's users. But being too mainstream may not lure the early adopters and music nuts that will help Google Music gain a foothold. As presented, though, Google Music could attain the right balance.
Wednesday's debut showed Google has a smart, two-pronged approach to the demand curve. Google Music will attract mainstream music fans with superstar content - the "fat head" of the demand curve. Free and exclusive content from artists such as Rolling Stones and Dave Matthews Band creates the "wow" factor a successful mainstream music store needs.
Google Music also plans to attract left-of-center fans with its platform for independent artists - the "long tail" of the demand curve. Support within the artist community will both drive traffic and give Google Music some much-needed credibility.
And just as iTunes is the beneficiary of Apple's success with MP3 players and smartphones, Google Music will piggyback on the success of Google's many properties. Consider these figures (all from comScore):
- Google sites drew 187.6 million unique visitors in the U.S. in October.
- Google had a 65.6-percent share of U.S. search engine market, and 13.4 billion search queries in October.
- Google sites - primarily YouTube - drew 18.6 billion video views by 161.4 million unique US users in September.
- Android's mobile phone market share averaged 44.8 percent for the three months ending with September, the most recent period available, and 40.2 percent for the three months ending in June - tops in both periods, and well ahead of Apple's respective 27.4 percent and 26.6 percent shares.
Those are great numbers to draw on. Still, it's difficult to gauge the impact of Google Music's sharing abilities when the facilitator, Google+, is a new social network trying to find an audience. Facebook is the mainstream; Google+ is the niche.
And though Google Music's platform for independent artists is a bold move, time will tell how musicians react. Independent artists already have a number of powerful direct-to-fan options that address their needs. An artist who spends $25 to set up an account with Google Music will still need to reach iTunes, sell and market on Facebook, and manage email and social media campaigns.
And because the Android platform is central to Google Music, more should be expected of a Google Music app that becomes too unwieldy with a large collection of music. (Google Music allows for free storage of up to 20,000 songs.) Smartphone users will need a simplified version of the web and tablet experience.