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Google Music's 'twist' is likely a social feature

Google has spoken to independent and major labels about enabling buyers of songs to offer tracks as gifts.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
3 min read
Google's Music Beta may see a sister service that enables users to buy songs and then share them with friends. Google Music Beta

Lots of people in the music industry believe they know what kind of new "twist" Google has planned for the company's upcoming download store.

Android chief Andy Rubin made news earlier today at the All Things Digital AsiaD conference by confirming reports that Google plans to launch an MP3 store to complement the company's cloud-music service. And he piqued interest by adding this: Google's offering will "have a little twist--it will have a little Google in it."

Multiple music industry sources told CNET that Google has spoken to the major record companies and some of the top independent labels about offering a "social recommendation" feature, which would enable a buyer of an MP3 to give that song as a gift as long as the person receiving it is a user of Google Music.

The recipient could listen to the song once, but should the person receive the same song from someone else, they could listen to it again. The number of times a person could listen to a song this way would be capped at two. The social recommendation feature is the only one that Google has discussed with the music companies that could be classified as a new twist, said the sources.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment.

Google has become bullish on music in the past couple of years. The company wants to offer songs to Android users and YouTube has generated significant revenue with music videos, sources say. But negotiations for the cloud service, right now called Google Music Beta, and the new MP3 download store haven't gone smoothly with some of the four largest record companies. The Wall Street Journal reported that EMI is close to signing a deal to offer songs on Google's MP3 store, but at this point the other three, Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group, don't appear to have signed on.

Google, which has also signed close to a dozen indie labels, has indicated that if it can't reach an agreement with all the majors it might launch without them, insiders said. It's safe to say that nobody wants that, not Google, not the major labels, and most importantly, not music fans.

Google has tried to go the unlicensed route before, with the Music Beta, a cloud service that enables users to store their digital tracks and other media on the company's servers. Without licenses, however, the company is limited in the kinds of features it can offer. But Google also knows that the labels want it in the market. They want a counterbalance to Apple's iTunes, which dominates music retail.

Here's another issue: Google is in a hurry. The search company wants to launch the new MP3 store before rival Apple can offer all of iCloud's features, music industry insiders say.

My guess is we're going to see a deal between Google and the record labels, but for the sake of music fans, lets hope its sooner rather than later.