Skip to main content

Facebook music: Can free ice cream fail?

Providing free music to more than 750 million people seems like a no-brainer.
Providing free music to more than 750 million people seems like a no-brainer.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Facebook is partnering with top music services Spotify, MOG and Rdio
  • Free music services have been among the fastest-growing on the web
  • Biggest roadblock to Facebook Music won't be users, it'll be record companies

Editor's note: Pete Cashmore is founder and CEO of Mashable, a popular tech-news blog. He writes occasional columns about social networking and technology for CNN.com.

(CNN) -- Facebook will launch a music service later this month, according to recent news coverage. Details on the new platform are scarce, but Ben Parr at Mashable reports that Facebook is partnering with top music services Spotify, MOG and Rdio to let users stream music on Facebook.com.

For the uninitiated: Spotify is a service that lets you listen to virtually any song for free on your desktop, with an occasional (but infrequent) ad. Users can pay a small fee to remove the ads or use the service on their phones.

That's right -- Facebook may be about to unleash unlimited free music to all its users. Music is enjoyed almost universally, and free music services have been among the fastest-growing on the web -- Napster, to name but one.

Providing free music to more than 750 million people (assuming Facebook Music launches globally) seems like a no-brainer: Why wouldn't everyone in the world want to listen to and share free music with friends? This is the web equivalent of giving away free ice cream.

And yet.

Simply putting a product in front of millions of people is no guarantee of success, Pete Cashmore says.
Simply putting a product in front of millions of people is no guarantee of success, Pete Cashmore says.

I've been wrong on Facebook so many times before.

I was wrong on Facebook Places, the social network's challenger to location-based startups.

"It's inevitable that Facebook will surpass Foursquare in the check-ins race," I declared more than a year ago.

While I can't verify that Facebook Places didn't surpass Foursquare in terms of the check-ins it provided, Facebook no longer feels that it's viable as a stand-alone product: These location features are being merged into status updates and brand pages, the company announced recently.

I was wrong, too, about Facebook Deals. In my predictions for 2011, I saw the service as a potential rival to market leader Groupon. After all, how could you provide a "50% off" coupon for a local business and not have a small percentage of Facebook's massive user base accept?

Wrong! Facebook Deals is set to shut down in the coming weeks, with a few limited offers remaining on business pages. Meanwhile, the daily deals space is coming under fire, and even Groupon is drawing extensive criticism as it prepares for its IPO.

How can Facebook take something popular, provide it free of charge to its 750 million users, and yet fail to become the market leader? Perhaps the company simply isn't able to devote the resources required to nurture so many non-core products? Or perhaps Facebook users are so focused on their news feeds that no product can take off unless it's inserted into this stream from the start.?

Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: For Facebook, simply putting a product in front of hundreds of millions of people is no guarantee of success.

I find it hard to imagine a situation in which Facebook users decide that free music isn't for them. Virtually all of us enjoy music. If Facebook can't make this work, then giving away "unlimited free money" might also prove a challenge.

No, the biggest roadblock to Facebook Music won't be the users; It'll be the record companies who, having already cut deals with Spotify et al., decide to rescind the offer. Another threat: Spotify and its ilk may realize that giving away free music to millions of people isn't the most sustainable of business models.

Or maybe I'm wrong again: Perhaps Facebook will fail to convince us that free ice cream is delicious.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Pete Cashmore.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT