For over a year, Google has been offering free, ad-supported music downloads in China with some music licensed by Universal Music Group. But yesterday the other three majors (EMI, Sony Music, and Warner Music Group) joined in, offering limited catalogs for free, legal download.
The service expects to expand its catalog to over a million titles, though that still represents a fraction of the majors’ overall catalogs and of the selection available on iTunes, Rhapsody, and other services.
This deal is conceivable because Google needs to compete with Baidu in the Chinese market, and Baidu offers free — though not necessarily legal — music. One suspects that Google has offered the majors large enough cash advances against ad revenue shares to make it worth their while.
Meanwhile, back in the States… MySpace Music has an ad revenue share deal with three of the four majors to offer free on-demand streaming with links to paid downloads.
I have asked the question, and I’ll ask it again: which online service provider will be the one that, in pursuit of MySpace’s music-fan audience, offers the record companies enough money to provide free downloads in the US and other markets — and when? Will it be Google, Yahoo, AOL, FaceBook, or some unknown but well-funded startup?