Google steals Apple's thunder with free deal

AD-SUPPORTED: The free version of Google Play Music is available online in the US for now. It is unclear when the free service will be launched in Singapore, if at all.


    Jun 25, 2015

    Google steals Apple's thunder with free deal


    GOOGLE launched a free version of its music streaming service on Tuesday, an ad-supported Internet radio network, as it sought to upstage the debut of Apple's rival service next week.

    What is not clear is if singer Taylor Swift approves - she made Apple do a U-turn earlier this week on not paying artists during the free trial period of its upcoming paid music streaming service.

    Still, Swift's back catalogue is available on Google's new service, reported tech news site The Verge. Swift famously yanked most of her music off streaming site Spotify last year, presumably over what she claimed were low royalty payments to musicians.

    There are some clues as to why her music might be on the new free streaming version of the paid Google Play Music.

    Google will, like FM radio and Internet radio service Pandora, pay artists for each song a user plays "at industry standard rates", reported Wired.

    "What we don't think we should be offering for free is to have the key to Tower Records," said Google product manager Elias Roman.

    "I think what artists like Taylor Swift are concerned about is giving an interactive experience for free, just supported by ads," he was quoted by Wired as saying. Mr Roman added that, like regular radio, Google's new free streaming service tries to get users to upgrade to the paid version, which is ad-free.

    Google Play Music has offered a US$9.99 (S$13.40) per month subscription service for two years. Tuesday's launch is the first free version of the streaming service, reported Reuters.

    It is available online in the United States for now, and will be available on Android and iOS by the end of the week, said Mr Roman.

    The paid version of Google Play Music is still not available in Singapore, and it is unclear when it and the new free service will be launched here, if at all.

    Apple said earlier this month it would launch a music streaming service on Tuesday for US$9.99 per month along with a US$14.99 family monthly plan, with a free three-month trial. The service is understood to be launching in Singapore, but local pricing is not known yet.

    As with other streaming services, such as Spotify and Rhapsody, Google Play Music curates playlists. Users can tailor playlists based on genre, artist or even activity, such as hosting a pool party or "having fun at work".

    "We believe this is a play that will expose a lot of people to the service," Mr Roman said in an interview.

    Unlike Google's subscription music service, the free service will carry ads, be unavailable offline and exclude certain songs.

    Mr Roman said millions of people look at Google Play Music each month but are not ready to pay for a subscription. By offering a free version of the service, he said, the tech giant hopes more people will be compelled to pay for an upgraded version.

    Ted Cohen, managing partner of TAG Strategic, a digital entertainment consultancy, said the timing of Google's launch was strategic.

    "It's a smart time to do it with all the attention around Apple," Mr Cohen said. "If they did it absent the Apple service, it wouldn't be the same story."

    Google declined to say how many subscribers it has, but said they more than doubled last year from the previous year.

    Rivals Pandora, Spotify and Beats Music had far more mobile downloads than Google Play Music last year, according to data from analytics firm App Annie.