Recently, Facebook announced a new music service that incorporates streaming music services with such partners as Spotify, Rhapsody, Mog, Rdio, iHeartRadio, and Slacker. The idea is that when Facebook members listen to music from one of these services, they can elect to share a constantly updating playlist of tracks they’re playing. Those “friends” who have access to the same music service can then also play this music simply by clicking on a link to the track.
I commented on what this might mean in "Facebook and the Future of Music". One vital piece of information missing at the time was that, in at least in two cases we now know of, Facebook membership is a requirement to belong to the service. These services are Spotify and Mog.
According to a Spotify representative: “New accounts require Facebook to log in and this is a worldwide initiative. To us, this is all about creating an amazing new world of music discovery. To make this as good and simple as it possibly can be, we’ve integrated Spotify login with Facebook login. By adopting Facebook’s login, we’ve created a simple and seamless social experience. Once a user is logged in they can control what to share to each of their networks from the preferences menu in Spotify.”
Mog offers similar justification: "New accounts require Facebook log-in. We're integrating MOG log-in to Facebook login to ensure MOG seamlessly integrates with Facebook Platform. We want to provide the easiest, most personalized, social music listening experience, and connecting via Facebook makes it faster and easier than ever for users to listen to MOG, earn free music and increase viral, free sharing."
I’ve checked in with some of the other music services, Rhapsody tells me that while it's participating in Facebook’s music service, they are not exclusive to it. You can have a Rhapsody account without also having a Facebook account. Rhapsody offers its own social networking service.
Putting aside the issue of whether this really is about “creating an amazing new world of music discovery” and providing "the easiest, most personalized, social music listening experience" or the more likely matter of the companies increasing their revenue thanks to better placement and a piece of the action, it very definitely puts Facebook in an important place in the music business. It’s now a significant music distributor and in the position to make demands of music companies as well as promote particular labels, artists, and publishers to millions of Facebook users.
Yes, I have Facebook issues
I’m not a fan of Facebook—I dropped my Facebook account more than a year ago thanks to what I considered the company’s pernicious privacy policies. So you’re forgiven for swallowing a grain of salt prior to believing, like me, that this isn’t a particularly good thing.
There’s a succinct phrase floating around the Internet that goes, “If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product.” This is how Google, Facebook, and other such services operate. You’re offered these services not because of the philanthropic tendencies of these companies but rather because you have something of value that they want—your personal information. This information gets churned with the information of countless other individuals and sold to advertisers, who use it to find ways to more efficiently market their stuff. This includes targeting individuals for particular products.
In order for this scheme to work, these forces must collect as much information about you as possible. And, in the case of Facebook, this means making it difficult for you to prevent that information from being shared. Time and again the company changes its policy settings—sometimes without your knowledge—so that more of your information is made available. If you’re aware of these changes you can attempt to change them back to more restrictive settings, but it’s not often easy to do that, as the settings are designed to be confusing. Additionally, most people either aren’t savvy enough to understand the implications of their inaction or are too busy to bother.
The company has made a habit of stepping too far over the privacy line, backing off when enough voices are raised, waiting for things to cool down, and then testing the waters again. These are not the acts of a company that values privacy but rather one that continues to push the limits of what its users and the law will allow.
Given this, do I really trust Facebook to be Simon Pure in regard to promoting music? Of course not. Nor does this do much for my faith in Spotify or Mog.
But it does make me think that Apple now has a significant opportunity.
Where Apple fits
As I said in last week’s piece, Apple has shown no signs of wanting to get into the subscription music business. The $25-a-year iTunes Match music service will allow you to wirelessly download music you own that can be found at the iTunes Store as well as upload music that isn’t in the iTunes Store, but there’s no option for streaming or downloading music you don’t own, as you can with Spotify, Rhapsody, Napster, Rdio, and Mog.
Suppose this streaming thing catches on—that Facebook demonstrates that people do like to swap playlists and immediately play and collect music recommended by their friends. How could Apple respond?
First, it could offer such a service without demanding your Internet life and soul in exchange. Rather than forcing you into a Web browser to listen to music streams, it could provide streams through iTunes, Apple TVs, and iOS devices. If you like the social experience, Apple could keep the name Ping, scrap the original service that went by that name, and make it an effective and enjoyable way to share music with your friends. Video streaming is also an option. And, like Facebook, it could launch the service and make it available to the millions of people who already have a relationship with the company in the form of an Apple ID.
But why trust Apple more than Facebook or Google or any other company? Of course there’s always the chance that Apple will go more heavily into the advertising business than its initial iAds foray so never say never but, unlike Facebook, advertising isn’t Apple’s reason for being. The company is doing quite well selling us tangible objects and apps—”real” things rather than enticements. This gives me hope.
I’m on record saying that I find music subscription a terrific way to listen to scads of music and I suspect that as people are exposed to it—from whatever service—they too will find the value in it. Once we’re over the hump of believing it’s sinful to “rent” music, I pray Apple’s there to provide a workable and trustworthy alternative to the Facebook trap. In the meantime, I’m dropping Spotify and Mog; sticking with Rhapsody, Napster, and Rdio; and keeping my fingers crossed that Apple has plans along these lines.
Updated 9/27/11 to reflect Mog also requiring a Facebook account for new Mog accounts.