Take it from someone who's been stranded by the volatile streaming music business before: You do not want to get involved with Beats Music right now.
That’s enough for me to recommend avoiding the Beats Music streaming service, at least until we know what it’ll look like post-acquisition.
If you’re a Beats subscriber already, a couple key questions should come to mind:
- Would an Apple-owned Beats Music work on non-Apple platforms? Beats is currently available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone and the web, with Chromecast support possibly on the way. But Apple typically doesn’t offer its services on competitors’ hardware. Yes, iTunes for Windows is an exception, but it’s also a relic from a time when supporting Windows was important, and there’s no version of iTunes for Android or the web. Maybe Beats will be Apple’s way of reaching out to other platforms, or maybe it’ll turn inward, becoming another selling point for Apple hardware.
- Will the service even continue to exist? It’s unclear, as Re/code’s Peter Kafka points out, whether Beats’ streaming music rights would transfer to Apple after an acquisition. If they don’t, Apple would have to negotiate new deals with record labels, which could take a while. Even if Apple does keep the rights, there’s no guarantee Apple wouldn’t just shutter the service and create something new on its own terms. That’s exactly what Apple did after it acquired streaming service Lala in 2009.
I’ve been in this situation before. When Beats acquired MOG in 2012, it was obvious that the streaming music service I loved was going away, as development on MOG’s mobile apps stagnated. Although I jumped ship before Beats announced work on a new streaming service in January 2013, the writing was already on the wall. When Beats Music launched earlier this year, MOG announced plans to shut down, leaving users with no easy way to transfer their artists and playlists to the new service.
Switching to another streaming music service is a tedious process. The companies that run these services don’t make it easy to move your artists, albums and playlists in and out, so adopting a new service means starting from scratch. When I switched from MOG to Rdio, I spent hours with my MOG collection in one window, and Rdio in another, manually re-adding everything. Trust me, you don’t want to get stuck doing that if Beats goes under, or changes into something that doesn’t suit your needs.
What do you do if you’re dying to subscribe to a streaming music service now? My colleague Matt Peckham has compared all the major streaming music services, but I recommend Spotify if you want a service that’s most likely to last the long haul, or Rdio if you want the best collection of apps and features. Otherwise, just wait and see how this Beats acquisition plays out (or doesn’t).