Look out, Apple, here comes GoogleTunes

Google announces a music search-and-buy service directly from its main results page. Should iTunes be nervous?

Published October 21, 2009 10:01PM (EDT)

Does Google's ambition know no bounds? Is even asking that question too silly? As if the jobs of universal library or online video mega-behemoth weren't big enough for Google's britches, the search engine company that ate the world has now announced plans to get into the music business. According to the Wall Street Journal, Google "will soon let users buy songs or listen to them for free, right on its main results page ..."

All four major record labels have already licensed their catalogs for the service, which is due to launch next week.

The WSJ spins the story with the headline "Google, Microsoft Intensify Search Rivalry," in part because on Wednesday Microsoft announced a deal to incorporate real-time Twitter and Facebook status updates into its Bing search engine results. But is this move really aimed at Microsoft? What about Apple? Maybe now we know the real reason why Google CEO Eric Schmidt stepped down from Apple's board of directors.

As far as can be told from the Journal article, Google has no plans to open its own music store. Along with allowing live streaming, it will provide links to other sites where the song can be bought, possibly even to iTunes. But does that make sense? Why add another middleman? Why share the take between three players -- Google, the record companies and iTunes? If the record studios have already licensed their catalogs to Google, why doesn't Google split the revenue with them?

For anyone else, including Microsoft, the marketing challenges involved with dethroning iTunes as the most popular online destination for listeners willing to pay for music are immense. But not for Google. I search for music on Google all the time -- popping in lyric fragments or band names heard on the radio or in a TV ad. Only then do I head over to iTunes. If Google can subtract a step from that trip, I wouldn't think twice.

The record labels, meanwhile, have made no secret of their desire to get out from under the thumb of Apple. If Google makes this as easy as Google typically tends to do -- look out iTunes.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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