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Free is the ultimate weapon — for the world’s biggest advertising company.

More than a year after Apple introduced iTunes Match, technology that lets you sync all your music to the cloud and enjoy it on any device (errr, any Apple device), and three months after Amazon announced similar capabilities with its Cloud Match service, Google is following suit:

We’re also launching our new matching feature to streamline the process of uploading your personal music to Google Play. We’ll scan your music collection, and any song we match against the Google Play catalog will be automatically added to your online library without needing to upload it, saving you time. This will be available in Europe at launch on November 13 and is coming to the U.S. soon after. This will all be for free — free storage of your music, free matching, free syncing across your devices, and free listening.

According to CNet, Google was going to announce the new service at its October 29 event. Then, of course, Hurricane Sandy happened. So Google announced the news on its blog instead. This was expected … but the big news is coded into the last sentence of the announcement.


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Can you say “free?”

The announcement’s last sentence uses the word “free” no less than five times: free storage, free matching, free syncing, and free listening. Without mentioning any competitors, Google is emphasizing as hard as it can the fact that iTunes Match costs $25/year and Amazon’s Cloud Match, while free for up to 250 songs, also costs $25 for up to 250,000 songs.

That may force Apple — and Amazon — to make some changes. Both Apple and Amazon make money when people buy stuff from them — digital or physical stuff. Google, on the other hand, makes money when people give their attention to its services — it sells that attention to advertisers.

Google’s version of the music matching services will allow users to add up to 20,000 songs from their existing music collections to their Google Play account. One other key difference from Apple’s matching solution is that Google will enable music streaming of those songs to Android devices or web browsers (Apple’s version is not exactly streaming; it’s download and play).

That’s huge, since you’ll be able to access your music whenever and wherever you want, on just about any device, as long as you have an Internet connection.

Some music execs have called matching services “legitimizing” piracy, but the main goal is to enable consumers to finally leave behind those mounds of plastic-encased music for the digital world. In order to offer this service, Google needed the approval of the major music labels.  The Europe-first strategy is likely a function of the status of contract negotiations with various labels.

The question now is: How will Apple and Amazon respond?

photo credit: darren131 via photopin cc

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