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Why Google Music is a necessary plank in its platform

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Brands & Campaigns

Phil Simon is the author of four management books, including his most recent, “The Age of the Platform.” His contributions have been featured in The Globe and Mail, the American Express OPEN Forum, Computerworld, Technorati, ZDNet,,, The New York Times, ReadWriteWeb and many other websites.

I’ve had a bunch of interesting conversations with many people since “The Age of the Platform” was released, including my friend Adrian Ott of Exponential Edge, about the nature of modern-day platforms. Are they more business to business? Business to consumer? Neither? Both?

The most powerful platforms today are Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. What does the Gang of Four have in common? They are certainly consumer-driven platforms and companies — and this leads to a key point: People are swamped.

Ask yourself the following question — and be honest.

How do you react when someone tells you about an exciting new music or movie service?

This isn’t 1998. Many people interested in online movies and music already use a service — legal or otherwise.

In all likelihood, the answer to the question above hinges on whether you’re happy with iTunes, Spotify or Netflix, respectively. If that answer is yes, are you going to switch to the just-announced Google Music? Are you going to immediately start streaming movies from Amazon? Probably not, unless there’s some compelling reason such as:

  • Integration with a ubiquitous service (read: Spotify).
  • Vastly more content.
  • A dramatically reduced price.
  • A new device that seamlessly integrates movies (read: Amazon’s Kindle Fire).
  • Adding planks.

Remember that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and other platform companies try to keep you on their platforms as much as possible. At a high level, this is why Google launched its music service, Google+, Gmail and other planks over the past 10 years. A platform missing a key plank runs the risk of losing consumers en masse — and quickly.

A company missing a key feature, product or service in its platform will probably do one of the following things:

  • Attempt to build its own plank.
  • Acquire a company that provides that key service or plank..
  • Forge a partnership with a company that offers this product.

So, what does this ultimately mean for Google Music? A few things come to mind. For one, because Google makes the vast majority of its money from advertising, its new music service does not need to generate billions in revenue, immediately or long-term. Second, it’s unlikely to supplant iTunes, Spotify and other entrenched and popular services. If Google Music is going to make any significant inroads, then it must land all major record companies.

As Chris Smith writes at TechRadar:

“Google announced partnerships with EMI, Sony and Universal Music to provide the same high-quality 320KBps MP3s hosted by iTunes. However, the fourth of the big four record labels, Warner Brothers, is conspicuous by its absence confirming rumors that Google had failed to lure all of the big players into agreements before launch.”

Of course, Warner Bros. will probably come around. It’s instructive to note that iTunes did not launch with every record company on board. Despite such massive change over the last five years, some things have remained the same. Case in point: people like music. Think of Google Music as perhaps a defensive move. By offering the ability to easily consume music, Google gives its users and consumers another means of staying on its platform.

Music is inherently social

Creating an effective social plank does not mean slapping a like button on a product page (a la Amazon) or tying in some basic social functionality (a la Apple iTunes with Ping).

It should come as no surprise, then, that Google launched Music after the unequivocal success of Google+. Think about it. Planks are cumulative; Larry Page was not about to mandate the installation of a Like button to facilitate the sharing of music. Now that Google+ has signed more than 50 million users, it is time for the company to integrate its planks as well as Facebook has — or at least try.

Will Google be successful? It’s an open question — as are many in the Age of the Platform.