Google Play Music goes free, partly

The subscription streaming service from the giant behind Android-powered devices is adding a free radio-like product to go with its $10-a-month plan.

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Joan E. Solsman
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Google Play Music, a $10-a-month music-streaming service, hasn't offered a free tier previously besides free trials. James Martin/CNET

Google is taking on Pandora, Apple Music and Spotify, adding a free radio element that opens a door for people to try a bit of Google Play Music without having to pay.

Google Play Music launched a free, ad-supported radio product in the US to complement the $10-a-month subscriptions that give members all-you-can-eat access to songs and a storage locker for the songs you already own, according to a blog post Tuesday. The post was written by Google product manager Elias Roman, who is the CEO of Songza, the Web radio company Google bought in July.

Without a free tier, "we're basically asking for people's phone number before having a chance to flirt," said Roman in an interview. "The single biggest door we can open is a free tier that lets people try the experience."

As consumers increasingly switch their music listening behavior from purchases and downloads to streaming, Google Play Music has struggled to break into popular consciousness compared with rivals like Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music, which is set to launch Monday. Despite Google's Android mobile operating system being the most pervasive in the world, and even though Google Play Music has the bonus feature of the free storage, it has remained in the shadow of bigger players like Pandora and Spotify .

The new free, ad-supported version of Google Play Music will be similar to Songza, offering the ability to browse curated stations by genre, mood, decade or activity, or you can search for your favorite artist, album or song to instantly create a station of similar music. The catalog of songs available on the radio-like product will match the breadth that the full Google Play Music offers, but you won't be able to listen to specific songs on demand.

Initially, the load of ads you'll have to hear is light. Roman said that at launch, Google will be experimenting with playing one "pre-roll" ad spot right before your songs start to play -- and then none thereafter. The service will also incorporate the TrueView ads that are popular with advertisers on YouTube, which allow consumers to skip the commercial after a few seconds. Advertisers don't have to pay for the ads that are skipped on YouTube.

The free tier launches first in the U.S. It's available on the Web today, and is rolling out this week to Android and the Apple iOS mobile operating system.