Monday, May 9, 2011

Apple, Google and Amazon “Media Lockers”

My record collection in the clouds?

I’m old enough to remember not only CD collections, but “record” collections.  Big, long rows of LPs.  Some of my friends had impressive collections in pristine condition. They handled the vinyl with care and cleaned each record each time. The liner notes/sleeves were kept spotless. To visit these friends was to visit their album collections, and to see what had been added lately. As we listened, they might hand me an album cover and tell me who played on it, and on what other albums they may also have played.  We had a very hands-on relationship with music in those days.

Digital music has changed all that. Our music may sometimes touch us, but we no longer touch it. Still, managing a media collection can take some effort, and a little loving care.

Lately, there has been lots of news (and speculation) about Amazon’s launch of, and Apple’s and Google’s plans for, a service in which you can keep your media collections on storage in the cloud rather than stored on your own computer or smartphone. Think of it! Digital music, videos and books, all stored in one place and accessible from all your computers and media players. Some call this concept the "Media Locker." It’s an idea with obvious appeal, and some obvious concerns and questions.

Amazon has the early lead with the new Amazon Cloud Drive service.  The service advertises 5GB of free online storage, unlimited access from any computer. “Never worry about losing your files again.”  Apple (can you say "iCloud?") and Google are expected to have entries into this service area very soon.  Some have even speculated that they’ve allowed Amazon the lead in order to assess any initial legal challenges from rights owners.
The advantages of a cloud-based media storage and streaming service are clear. Media files can be very large, and not having to store them locally or back them up would be great. Being able to access anything you’ve stored in the cloud-based service from any device you own without moving files around and syncing over and over would be great. No juggling multiple disjoint copies of your collections.

Some concerns do spring to mind, however. Assuming great Internet access all the time (and that seems like a questionable assumption), will this risk blowing out our data plans at a time when the carriers are clamping down on unlimited data? Will we be able to easily share a few music tracks or movies with family members, without giving them full access to our accounts?

Perhaps these services will have some positive impacts on access. Maybe consumer demand will cause carriers to improve their data coverage and capacity, and maybe they’ll compete on unlimited data plans…. but I’m not holding my breath. The carriers and the media companies and the cloud service providers are separate entities (as they should be!). New services that don’t directly make money for the carriers are unlikely to motivate their services and pricing.

Let’s hear from you.  
  • Is the Media Locker an idea whose time has come? 
  • What’s a fair price for such a service?  
  • What are some of the service details that could tip the scales for you?


  1. I also had a record collection. In fact, I still have most of it, mostly because I was once told by someone with know-how on the subject that digital recordings don't live up to the standards of analogue, especially for classical music recordings. But never mind that...I also have a digital collection.

    I welcome the Media Locker idea. I find digital collections cumbersome and extremely difficult to maintain. I find I don't have time to sync in order to update my devices, so I don't tend to buy online music.

    So, yes, I welcome any solution - cloud or otherwise - that would grant me the same privileges and conveniences of an old fashioned record collection...sharing, borrowing, copying easily and with anyone. And yes, I would be willing to pay for the privilege. In the end, I would buy more digital music, which should be some incentive for changing the current status quo.

    Just don't bring back the scratches.

  2. Thanks, JP. If I'm optimistic, media lockers could be very cool for users and might even push carriers to raise or remove monthly limits on data. The part I'm not so sure about is whether most implementations will allow us reasonable sharing capabilities. I don't want to share purchased music with the world and thereby rob from the artists. But I do want to easily share with a few family members, and not have to jump through hoops when I change devices. Time will tell!