[Please note that this post first appeared on the Forrester Consumer Product Strategy blog. Over the coming month or so I will be migrating all of my activity there. I will soon be posting new information here for you to amend your feeds and subscriptions. Thanks]
Lots happened in 2009 but it wasn’t a vintage year for digital music (in fact it was the year it well and truly lost the digital buzz to eReaders). All in all I’d give 2009 a 6 out of 10, with the launch of Spotify accounting for at least couple of those points and the following as the 5 key disappointments:
- Comes With Music under-whelmed (as did Play Now plus)
- ISP services didn’t get off the ground (including unlimited MP3’s nearly but not quite moment)
- Apple’s new killer music format was….oh iTunes albums
- imeem gave a master class in how not to make money out of social music
- The big boys (MySpace, Apple) snapped up the innovative competition (Lala, iLike, imeem)
So will be 2010 be any different? Though I don’t think it will be the year digital music will really come of age (that’s at least a couple more years away) I do expect it on balance to be a stronger one than its predecessor. Leaving aside the few specific developments I’m not able to talk about here are a few of my predictions:
- Apple launches a major refresh to the music experience. (I’ll caveat this first prediction with the disclaimer that Apple make a habit of proving wrong those of us foolish enough to try to second guess them.) With that said, there are many things Apple could do with music in 2010. Whatever they do, they have to do something significant if they are to stay on top of their game. They’ve spent much of 2009 collecting user data via the Genius app and they’ve acquired some top notch streaming and programming expertise via the Lala acquisition. And of course they’re busy developing with content partners for the forthcoming touch screen note book. Here’s hoping that this will all add up to something like an integrated on-device, connected, interactive and immersive music experience where the cost is bundled into the price of the device (perhaps with the touch screen note book as the flagship device for the offering). Apple wouldn’t be in the game of hiding the cost of music to the consumer (a la Comes With Music) but they may use content subscription bundling as a way to maintain premium price points and differentiation for their devices.
- MySpace deepens its focus on music. Though MySpace will spend most of 2010 simply ingesting iLike and imeem, the acquisitions form part of a longer term strategy to breathe much needed new life into MySpace’s music role. The new management talent is tasked with pulling MySpace from the brink of becoming a garbled also ran and dragging it by the collar into the 2nd decade of the century. Though they’re unlikely to admit it, the mainstream social networking race against Facebook is as good as over. By contrast they remain the #1 destination for artist communities online, yet without a major reinvention they’ll start to feel the competitive pressure bite there also.
- Spotify scales back its US launch. Spotify appears to be paying the price for the major labels having second thoughts about ad supported on-demand content. Those pesky US licenses have been proving tough to tie down and I’d expect to see Spotify’s US launch to be more strongly focused on the premium tier than it is in Europe. If so, it could actually prove to be something of a blessing for the Swedish upstart, allowing it to consolidate the monetization of its core user base rather than building a US ad business from scratch whilst millions of free US subscribers add cost to the bottom line. Whatever the case, Spotify’s European revenue fundamentals should improve in Europe in 2010.
- ISP music services don’t pack a killer punch. I’m a firm believer that ISPs will become established as a core element of the digital music value chain and the best way of fighting piracy head on. In 2010 we’ll see more services launched both in the US and in Europe, especially the UK. But I don’t see anything yet to suggest they’ll be adequately provisioned to flourish. It’ll take another year or two of revenue pain decline for the labels to adjust their license requirements sufficiently. What do I think will work? 5 pounds / euros / dollars a month for household access to near unlimited (i.e. fair use) MP3.
- Semi–pro sites and services prosper. I’m not sure I’d go as far as to say 2010 will be their year, but it will certainly see continued growth for the likes of SellaBand, MyMajorCompany and Tune Core. These sites that create a route to audiences for artists either not good enough or not yet good enough for record deals, play to the strength of the Internet as a social channel for artists and fans. Which of course is all the more reason for MySpace to be watching its back.
To conclude, 2010 will be another year in which digital music continues to find its feet, but significant progress will be made.