Why It’s Taking So Long

Thanks to this post at the Forrester Research website, I think it finally dawns on me why it is taking Apple so long to unveil their “iTunes in the Cloud” digital music service:

The challenge for any music service or music device manufacturer is how to help digital music break free of the chains of the PC and the MP3 player. Getting music into the living room has to be a key priority (the iPod docking station is a Band-Aid, and the TV set-top box reinforces the supremacy of TV content over music).

The overriding objective though for cloud-based music services is to join the dots of the digital music experience (see graphic below). The impact of legacy rights and technology factors have resulted in a fragmented digital music experience in which the consumer has to jump across multiple services and platforms to get the best-of-breed experience. The true potential of music services that leverage the cloud is not ubiquitous device access but joining the dots of the digital music experience so that discovery, acquisition, management and consumption can all happen within one unified 360-degree music experience environment.

Unfortunately, the post links to a full-fledged Forrester Research report, of which only an excerpt is available online. The full report will cost you a mere $499. But the post is sufficient to get the gist of the full report (that’s a curious strategy in its own right…), particularly as it is accompanied by this very clear illustration:

Digital Music Come Full Circle

So there are four stages to music “consumption:” Discover, Acquisition, Consumption (I guess it costs $499 to discern the difference between those two) and Management. What the report seems to say is that these functions are presently fragmented. You have to go to different services to get the full experience.

I know what they mean. I will use a service like Pandora (or XM, or a dozen other possibilities) in order to have the sort of “random” music experience which will, hopefully, deliver me to something new and enticing (OK, XM was a bad example because every other track they play is either Tracy Chapman or Ray LaMontagne…).

When I hear something new that I think I want to hear more of, my next move is to go to the subscription service du jour (until May 31, Lala.com, now Rdio.com) to see if I can find more of what I’ve just heard (Lala seemed to have a more up to date catalog than Rdio).

If I can’t find what I’m looking for on Rdio (or MOG.com, another streaming subscription service), then I’ll start web surfing to see what I can find. Google Music Search is good for that. Sometimes I will even visit the abandoned digital amusement park known as “MySpace” to see if I can find what I’m looking for there.

But the LAST place I will go these days is iTunes, because that means a) I cannot hear more than 30 seconds of any song and b) hearing the rest of it will cost me a buck-a-pop. Well, forgive me, but in the age of 99c iPhone apps I’m disinclined to shell out even 99c for a song I don’t know yet that I’m going to listen to more than once.

(Note to music industry: your biggest problem now is the theory of “the path of least resistance.” If I cannot find what I am looking for at the price point I am now prepared to pay (i.e. pennies via subscription service), I will probably go elsewhere. Sorry, but you have to make it really easy for me and I don’t mind “paying,” but these days I want a LOT for whatever I’m shelling out…).

In my case, the “consumption” part of the pie is pretty well out of the question – if by “consumption” you mean purchasing tracks. Which brings us to the final pie-slice, “management,” which is what I use iTunes for, and for the 60-gigs or so of music that I have in my digital music library, iTunes certainly serves that purpose.

But the whole idea of “music in the cloud” implies that the definition of “consumption” is changing. In the era of the Celestial Jukebox we won’t “consume” music in discrete units so much as we’ll just “use” it, and when we’re done with one thing, we’ll “use” something else. But we will never exhaust the supply, which is infinite, so the whole idea of “consuming” is pretty much obsolete.

Which brings me to the point of this whole dissertation: that illustration explains why it is taking Apple so long to unveil their “iTunes in the Cloud” service and software: because when they finally do, my hunch is that the service will offer precisely what the Forrester report suggests: a “360-degree” music service that encompasses all the functions: discovery, acquisition, consumption, and management.

That’s what Apple does. It doesn’t simply take a piece from column A and a piece from column B and then toss something into the marketplace. If the advent of the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad teaches us anything, it is that Apple takes a high-altitude perspective, thoroughly surveys the landscape, and then opens the bomb-bay doors and then introduces something that totally alters the landscape.

And I can see where that would take a little more time than simply acquiring Lala and cobbling their service onto iTunes. But I also think that if that’s their game, Apple can probably take as long as they need to get the first iteration right.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep jumping from Pandora to Rdio to iTunes.