On-line retail superpower Amazon recently started Cloud Drive, a web-based storage service that allows customers to upload their music, pictures or video to their servers. The basic service gives you 5 gigabytes worth of storage for free, with data plans available to give you up to a full terabyte of space for $1000 a year. It’s a virtual hard drive hosted by Amazon, with perks such as having any MP3 music you buy from them being hosted on their service for free.
No Cloud is Really “Free”
Google and Apple are also set to start their own cloud services, though they will reportedly not offer any free levels of their own.The idea behind the clouds is that the music retailers and Google are looking to cash-in in something that Netflix started doing earlier this year in offering a streaming-only service for a smaller monthly fee. It seems that consumers are just as happy not owning any physical media, but getting the bulk of their entertainment via streaming services like Netflix and Pandora.
There is a big difference between services like Netflix and cloud services. Netflix actually owns all the content they distribute to their consumers, where as cloud services are still relying on their customers uploading their own media, and adding to their library by purchasing even more content from them directly. This could be the Achilles Heel in a cloud. The appeal of Netflix or Pandora is having virtually any song or movie at your fingertips for a very low monthly price, essentially allowing consumers to have massive media libraries that they normally couldn’t afford.
If Amazon, Apple and Google don’t offer the same kinds of services, will consumers eventually tire of paying a monthly fee for what is essentially the same thing as their iPods? After all, there aren’t any monthly service fees on a 32GB iPod. You buy it once, and fill it with whatever content you want. Then you carry your cloud around with you everywhere you go. The service providers would argue that their programs offer you the ability to leave that device behind and access your media from anywhere in the world with an Internet browser. Of course, an iPod would let you listen to your music no matter where you are, regardless of Internet connectivity.
Much Ado About Nothing
Cloud storage services are getting a ton of buzz right now, since major players in the tech sector are seeming to embrace a new business model. The reality though, is that these services aren’t any different that off-site backup companies that have been around for years now. The differences is that those services aren’t branded with Apple, Google or Amazon logos. Cloud storage will likely have a very narrow marketplace in the end. In these economic times, there aren’t many folks who can afford monthly payment plans for something they can do themselves with any number of cheap storage devices.
The truth remains that music retail is an industry in need of some real revitalization. The iTunes model works, with music fans having the ability to purchase what they want on a track to track basis. The problem is that these new gimmicks don’t do anything to get at the root of the problem facing the music industry: bloat. Pure and simple there is too much padding in the industry. For decades the music consumer has paid the price for labels spending too much on bands and their records without putting any kind of work into developing them as artists, and the industry has become a giant meat grinder, chewing up and spitting out most acts that might even have had a chance to thrive thirty years ago.
Perhaps what the music business needs is to be brought to its knees so it can then work on blazing a truly new trail. Historically resistant to technology because of paranoid fears of consumers choosing to steal art instead of pay for it, they’ve now becomes victims of their own antiquated business model. Cloud services are new and shiny now, but they won’t do anything to revitalize the industry and thus they’re just another distraction from the real problems that lay ahead for not only the record labels, but the artists themselves.