"Google Music" launching without Sony, WMG deals


Google is readying its Google Music digital retail platform during a media event Wednesday, but CNet reports that at least two of the four major label catalogs will be absent from the debut: Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group. Google issued invitations to the press event late last week, with multiple reports indicating the digital services will add premium downloads to its existing Google Music Beta cloud streaming service, which operates without label agreements in place.

Music Beta enables consumers to upload and store their digital music collections via the web for streaming playback across Flash-enabled connected devices including Android smartphones and tablets as well as the desktop. Users may store as many as 20,000 songs for free–the service syncs activity on different devices, meaning that playlists created on the user’s smartphone will automatically show up on their computers.

CNet says Google has reached a licensing agreement with Universal Music Group but remains in negotiations with Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group. No word whether EMI Music will participate. Last week, Citigroup concluded its auction of EMI Group by selling the record company in two pieces for a total of $4.1 billion. Vivendi’s Universal Music Group is buying the record label side for $1.9 billion and the music publishing biz is going to a group headed by Sony Music for $2.2 billion.

Google confirmed last month it is poised to open its own music retail platform: “I think we’re close” to rolling out the store, said SVP/mobile Andy Rubin during an appearance at the AsiaD conference in Hong Kong. “[The store] will have a little twist–it will have a little Google in it,” Rubin said. “It won’t just be selling 99 cent tracks.”

He didn’t offer other specifics on the storefront, but he said it will not simply mirror Apple’s iTunes or the Amazon MP3 Store.

Google reportedly plans to enable its 40 million Google+ social network users to recommend songs in their digital library to their contacts–those friends will be able to listen to the track once for free, and then purchase the song in the MP3 format, probably for 99 cents each.

Because Music Beta arrived without licensing agreements, consumers are blocked from sharing songs with friends or purchasing premium downloads from Google. Major label execs have reportedly said Music Beta talks broke down earlier this year because they felt Google failed to properly address their piracy concerns.

At AsiaD, Rubin said Google has struggled to come to terms with the labels because media companies in general have been unable to reconcile their perception of the Google platform with what it is becoming. “Google is in the very, very early phases of adding consumer products to our portfolio,” Rubin said. “The media industry didn’t see us as that. They saw us a search company.”