What Apple Lacks In Music: The "S" Factor

image from www.digitalmusicinsider.com This guest post is by Jack Isquith, who is head of strategic development for Slacker Radio and blogs at Digital Music Insider.

Do you remember the scene in Almost Famous when pre-teen William flips through his older sister’s vinyl album collection? I flashed on this great scene as I thought about this week’s events. Apple’s recent iCloud announcement was warmly received by most digital music proponents. In the first couple of days after the announcement the mainstream press fawned over Apple and the iCloud, and Apple stock gained.

That’s not to say that everybody was impressed.

There was grumbling from well informed digerati, as well as Apple competitors, that this was much ado about very little. After all, the dissenters argued, Apple still hadn’t rolled out a subscription music play to obliterate the old model of paying for music track by track, album by album.

This all makes for a fun digital debate, but I think both camps miss the musical mark.

While the Apple cloud integration might be the best we have seen so far, it offers no surprises. Your collection remains your collection. You can simply access your music now much more easily. This makes Apple devices more attractive, and that’s smart business for a company still driven by hardware and design, not software and content.

Think about the biggest music fans you know — the people who call themselves music junkies.  Chances are that while they love their devices of choice (classic 160gb iPods, Sonos systems, vintage turntables and vinyl) they still spend the majority of their waking hours engrossed in discovering music. Talk to them at length and they will tell you that they live for that Oh Wow moment of discovery. The perfect moment of surprise.  Surprise with a capital S. Their favorite music story invariably revolves around “the first time they heard or saw Elvis, The Beatles, Springsteen, Nirvana, Wu-Tang, Arcade Fire, etc.”

Music fanatics live for surprises and discovery above everything else. That’s why they are so loyal to the bands, magazines, fanzines, radio stations, and websites of their youth. They’re constantly trying to recapture that moment that young William has, flipping through those albums, in Almost Famous.

I’ll never forget this comment from a Warner Bros. Records co-worker a couple of years back:

“I go to Best Buy to get the music I know I want to buy, but I go to Amoeba a helluva lot more, to get the music that I didn’t know I wanted to buy”

With the iCloud, Apple has made progress on getting you the music you already know you want. But what about discovery?

The battle for the Oh Wow moment of surprise — for the music you didn’t know you wanted, for that elusive “S Factor” rages on.

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