As Music Gets More Social, is Apple Getting Left Behind?
When I opened Spotify on my desktop this morning, a pop-up informed me that “Spotify Loves Social” and that I should discover “great music with [my] friends.” To get started doing just that, all I had to do was click “Get Started.” Spotify also conveniently pre-checked the opt-in to Facebook’s new Open Graph feature. I’m not sure most mainstream users will understand that opting in to the pre-checked Open Graph option means that all their listening data will not just be forwarded to Facebook, but that their friends will likely see everything they play on the Facebook ticker as well. As Spotify now forces its users to have a Facebook account, chances are quite a few people will sign up for this “service” unwittingly.
No matter what you think about this, though, it’s clear that the future of music is social. Facebook has partnered with everybody who is anything in this business, including Spotify, Slacker, turntable.fm, iHeartRadio, MOG, SoundCloud and Rhapsody. The one exception: Apple.
As Cult of Mac’s Mark Elgan rightly points out, Facebook – at least in the music world – “has become not just a competitor to Apple, but the Mother of All Apple Competitors.” Apple, of course, has Ping, its own music-focused social network. Ping, however, is not a huge hit and whereas Apple couldn’t even get Facebook to agree to let its users export their contacts to its own social network, though, the world’s largest social network was more than happy to work with all of these other streaming music services.
If Ping were a huge hit, this wouldn’t be a problem for Apple, but Apple’s social network is neither very social nor very active these days. Indeed, one has to wonder if Apple itself is still thinking about it much, as it hasn’t seen any major updates since its launch.
Two Trends that Could Hurt Apple: Social Music and On-Demand Streaming
Two trends are converging on Apple here that could unsettle it as the leading online music provider in the long run: social music and on-demand streaming. As on-demand services like Spotify, MOG and Rdio slowly gain traction (both with their paid and free tiers), users may just decide that they don’t want to buy music but prefer a monthly flat-fee that costs less than the price of a single album instead. Couple that with Apple losing out in social, and it’s clear that some people over in Cupertino must be starting to get worried. So far, Apple hasn’t been able (or willing) to offer a flat-fee plan and its social initiatives haven’t caught on, either.
Elgan argues that Apple needs its own social network for its music and entertainment business to succeed in the long run. Maybe that’s true, but I would think that a closer partnership with the existing networks – be that Facebook or Google+ – could help the company to get into the social music game. Users have pretty much reached the saturation level when it comes to new social networks. At this point, partnering is a smarter move than building your own, especially if social networking isn’t part of your core competencies.