You can't build your own playlist. There's no shuffle option. Forget autoplay. And did I mention that registration is required?
Guvera, a new online music service launching in the States March 30, is trying to revolutionize the way we pay for music. Rather than mimic the streaming models of MySpace and Pandora, the Australian start-up offers downloadable mp3s free of charge and DRM. How? By leveraging consumer data with advertisers. It would be easy to dismiss this as another failed attempt at a streaming service, but Guvera is such an egregious example of the music and advertising industries' joint desperation that it bears exploring—it's a cautionary tale.
When users search for music on Guvera, they're presented with a list of corporate-sponsored music channels. Businesses can use these channels to advertise events, brand their image through music, and build popular playlists to attract customers. For example, Mountain Dew's Do the Dew channel renews the company's commitment to the extreme, offering songs from NOFX, listing dates for the 2010 Dew Tour, and providing links to skate videos and its blog:
Very EXTREME if you ask me.
There are no disruptive commercials on the site (unless you consider the whole thing to be a commercial), but in order to access the music, users will have to provide bits of personal information to earn credits, which they can then exchange on the corporate-sponsored channels for free downloads. This data ranges from basic personal info (name, age, address, gender) to general interests (favorite films and books). Advertisers get loads of consumer data; consumers get free music—a win-win, right?
Unfortunately, the more Guvera tries to find a happy median between consumers and advertisers, the more the service disappoints. With barely any content and a flawed incentive system, Guvera has a lot to fix in the short time before its launch.
The biggest problem facing the site is its lack of content. EMI and Universal have signed on with Guvera, but unless you've memorized both labels' artist rosters, I doubt you'll come across any music by chance. In fact, don't even try using Guvera's search engine at all since it's more likely to return results for bands and songs you've never heard of. Looking for Justin Timberlake? Guvera suggests the Justin Vali Trio. Lady Gaga? Try Air's Alpha Beta Gaga. Vampire Weekend? Only Don Adams' album Weekend Vampire. It's extremely frustrating; you'll feel like you hit the jackpot when you finally find a song or artist you were actually looking for. And don't expect to ever discover controversial or explicit music on Guvera—companies can disassociate from any artists that will reflect poorly on their brand, be it Eminem or Kanye West.
The absence of Sony BMG and Warner Music Group, who along with independents represent 58% of the U.S. market share, creates an enormous black hole in Guvera's library. Would you ever use iTunes if you had about a one in two chance of finding a song in its catalog?
Such limited content also should raise red flags for advertisers, who will have a hard time distinguishing their brands from other sponsors with unique music playlists. For example, Huey Lewis & the News' Hip to be Square shows up on a bunch of corporate channels. It may be Huey's "undisputed masterpiece," but it's no Sports—when it came out in '83, I think they really came into their own, commercial and artistically.
Actually, any song in Guvera's library not featured on a company playlist is automatically available to download from any music channel—Guvera just tacks the song atop the company's playlist, however odd it appears. (You'll notice above on Mountain Dew's channel that Huey is listed with the Kills, the Living End, and NOFX.) This is probably an issue with the beta version, but it needs to be fixed before launch.
Guvera's model also lacks incentives to keep consumers on the Web site. The only reason users provide personal information is to get free music—the more you fill out, the more credits you earn. However, this only provides enough of an incentive to fill out the information quickly, not accurately. I found myself just madly clicking through the options—after all, who cares what data I put in? It's time-consuming and disruptive.
There's also no incentive to fill out more than the bare minimum of profile details. For example, in the Favorite Sports section, you'll earn the same amount of credits for selecting football as you would for checking off football, hockey, and baseball. Once you check-off one item in a section, there's no reason to continue, unless you're feeling generous.
Worst yet for advertisers, there's no incentive to keep consumers on their brand's music channel. Guvera isn't designed as a streaming service—again, there's no autoplay or shuffle—you literally have to click play for each song. And advertisers are crazy if they think users will start hanging out in the McDonald's channel—letting corporations choose the music you listen to is only a slight step above letting an elevator DJ your iTune's party shuffle. Can you imagine a time when investment banks and law firms own corporate channels? Morgan Stanley's easy-listening station? It'll be terrible. The aim for Guvera users will always be to download and log off.
And ultimately, even if Guvera found the perfect balance between pleasing consumers and sponsors, I really have trouble understanding how its general-interest questions will help advertisers. The options on Guvera are just bizarre. For instance, in the Gadgets category, you can select from binoculars to Blackberrys, cigar cutters to cooking appliances, Rubiks Cubes to satellite navigators, and sportsgear spy tools to yo-yos. Dictionary is an option under favorite books. Everything is an option for favorite food. It feels as if Guvera's encouraging you not to care.
Maybe Guvera has some insane algorithm to successfully mine all this data, but unless you're a 22-year-old, dictionary-reading, satellite-navigator-enthusiast who eats everything, likes yo-yos, and listens to Huey Lewis & The News, I have trouble understanding how Guvera will appeal to advertisers and consumers over the other Dot-FM's, Pandora's, and Spotify's. I applaud Guvera for trying a new model, but I'm just not sure if it'll work in its present condition.
Without content and the right incentives to keep both consumers and advertisers happy, Guvera just isn't worth the hassle.
[Che Guevara image via Flickr]