Is Mobile Music — Finally — About To Take Off?

I’ve been watching the mobile music market pretty closely for some time, even going so far as to start a news and links blog about it a few years ago. I gave up after a while, though, because it seemed like the industry was constantly stuck in neutral, never really making any progress, thanks to the intransigence of record labels, or operators, or inept devices and interfaces, or high data tariffs. But I’m starting to get the feeling that we’re on the cusp of seeing all of that change, and mobile music services really start to take off.

A number of things are changing:
– Plenty of people are using their phones as music devices. That’s the first hurdle, and it’s largely been conquered. Lots of people are listening to music on their phones, which means lots of people know what a pain it can be to get music onto their phones — so they’ll be open to services that make it better and easier.

– Operators (some of them, anyway) are realizing what they’ve offered so far really hasn’t been very good. Yes, there’s plenty of underwhelming stuff out there, but on the other hand, you have some operators who seem like they get that they can’t put crap out there and expect people to like it and pay for it. For instance, an Orange exec labeled its efforts to date as “nothing to write home about,” and another said it expects to offer all sorts of new, DRM-free services within the next six months.

– Labels are changing their tunes, as they realize that if they don’t, they’re going to destroy their businesses. Would a major label have entered into a licensing agreement like Universal’s with Nokia for its Comes With Music program a year ago? I doubt it. They’re becoming a little more relaxed, they’re giving up their insistence on DRM (which, probably more than anything, has held this market back), and they’re exploring new business models.

– Flat-rate data plans are becoming more common, and more services are emerging that circumvent the mobile networks.

Slowly, the barriers are starting to disappear, making this a good time to be a startup with a cool mobile music service (if you are one, by the way, drop me an email at carlo at mobhappy dot com, as I’d love to take a look). What do you think?

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