In an attempt to tap into the digital-music market dominated by iTunes, Google today unveiled a new song-searching system that will allow users to quickly stream a free track using LaLa or MySpace Music. Both Google and the record business hope the simple-to-use form of music search dissuades users from typing in, say, "Beyoncé" and "torrent" and turning up thousands of illegal song-download results. "The best way to address that [torrent-searching] situation is to provide a really great and comprehensive and fast, excellent music service," says R.J. Pittman, a product management director at Google. "We really feel the way is to make it much better for people — and that's going to have a positive impact on music industry."
With the new system, Google users will find a large "play" button at the top of the results page when they search for an artist, song or album. They'll also get one free stream, as well as "buy" links to LaLa, MySpace, Rhapsody, Pandora, iMeem and others. "Millions and millions of consumers search for music every day — they're trying to get to music the best way they know how. And the best way they know how is Google," says Geoff Ralston, LaLa's chief executive officer. "ITunes is a great program, but it's big and it's heavy and it's slow. You don't live in iTunes all the time."
Still, while the new Google service is likely to be more convenient for customers, David Pakman, a venture capitalist and former eMusic CEO, believes it is unlikely to generate any more income for LaLa, MySpace or the major record labels who provide the content. He says Google searchers probably won't jump from streaming a song for free to actually buying tracks via LaLa. "Getting access to streaming music isn't really that hard," he says. "The problem is there's just no business around it."
One advantage for Google is the search giant didn't have to make deals directly with the labels to get the music — they simply let LaLa and MySpace, who already have such deals, lay the groundwork. Labels, contending with another 14 percent drop in CD sales this year, according to Nielsen Soundscan, have been more aggressive recently to remake themselves in the digital age. "They have been supportive [of the Google deal]," LaLa's Ralston says. "They understand there's a new world out there."