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Facebook and the future of music

Christopher Breen | Sept. 22, 2011
At Facebook's f8 conference Thursday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed some of the details of the Facebook Music Service, which is tied to its new Timeline feature.

This is, of course, a potentially enormous boon for music streaming services. More than anything that's been tried before, this will tempt a lot of people to try one of these services. If the experience is transparent and the price of entry not too painful, it could significantly shift people's attitudes about "renting" music.

And that could be an interesting challenge for Apple and other services that sell music. If you can have access to virtually anything ever recorded (and you put little thought into what that access costs over time), there's less motivation to own music. Apple's iTunes Match, while cloud-based, doesn't address this issue because it works only with music that you own.

Of course Apple may have plans to get into the subscription game as well. It has the contacts and catalog, it certainly has the means of delivery, and it has control of the most popular portable music players on the planet. Given that, it could trump Facebook's efforts, which, at this early date, look a little clumsy given that they're tied to a browser. But, up to this point, Apple hasn't strayed from its "People want to own their music" stance.

Giving them the business

Facebook isn't doing this out of the desire to see the world become a more musical place. It is undoubtedly going to make money from the music services that push content through Facebook. And the music you listen to and share is yet another data point that Facebook can sell to those entities who pay for this kind of information.

It will have an effect on music marketing as well. Certainly we'll see music labels and other related businesses pour their acts and partners' work into the timelines on their walls. Celebrities and "trusted sources" will also pump their timelines full of music. So while there is a measure of democratization here, we'll want to keep an eye on services that are promoted to tell us what to listen to, just as radio was tasked with this job in past decades. The less bleak side of this tarnished coin is that artists will also have the opportunity to stream their music to fans and friends.

But perhaps the most intriguing angle is that we are now a source to be wooed and pitched. Your voice, among the millions, matters to those who are promoting a particular artist or label. To what lengths is the music industry willing to go to promote and reward "taste makers" who influence large numbers of "friends?"

This is music worth watching.


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