The small but vital word that unites MySpace Music, Google Wave and the paid content debate: Easy

This week, three things happened that gave something of a hint on where the digital shift is taking us.

The launch of MySpace Music in Australia was announced; Google said previews would start being issued for its new product Google Wave from today, and hints began to emerge from within News Ltd that they might actually have a plan they believe in for how to make online content pay.  

There are three factors at play – the importance of marketing to their success; the way users share stuff and most of all, making it easy for consumers to do the things that site owners want them to.

First to MySpace Music. They had a swanky launch in Sydney yesterday, ahead of the service going live in Australia early next week.

Every so often I’ve felt bad about not being on MySpace. I do, after all, write about the thing from time to time. MySpace Music is the killer app (and I hate that phrase) that will finally get me onboard.

All four of the major music publishers are signed up, which means that it will be able to deliver a large amount of free, legal, streaming music, any time users want it.

The business model is mainly advertiser funded – Yum brands’ KFC and Toyota’s Yaris are the major sponsors and have committed for 12 months apiece. For Yum in particular it marks the beginning of a major shift of its budget from TV to online.

The second revenue stream comes from paid downloads, driven by easy access to iTunes.

And the key thing about the next couple of years is going to be the word “easy”. That’s the bit that’s most important.

The reason why I, as a consumer, will finally jump, is that it’s going to be the easiest way of streaming music – it’s a completely different experience to before, where if you looked for free music on MySpace you needed to hop from page to page. Now you can easily listen to pretty much what you like, when you like.

And unlike July’s launch of MCM’s video offering the Digital Entertainment Network, the music will be uninterrupted by ads.

Based on watching the demo, it’s now easy to create and, crucially, share playlists on MySpace Music. It’s a bit like iTunes in that respect.

The biggest thing driving piracy has been the lack of an easy, legal alternative.

If you made it easy for me, I as a punter would be happy (or more to the point, wouldn’t notice) if I was paying you small amount for any form of content the I needed or liked. For instance, with downloading overseas TV content, I really can’t be bothered with the hassle if there’s an easier alternative, even if I have to pay something for it.

And that’s obviously relevant for the paid content debate when it comes to online news.

It’s about removing as much friction as possible in paying for it. I’ll pay if I don’t notice it coming out of my pocket.

The challenge for News Corporation and the rest is simply to find a way of doing that. It’s a marketing challenge. If people can be persuaded to pay $3.50 for a large coffee (remember when nobody did that?) or hundreds of dollars a year for a gym membership they don’t use, then it can be done. In both of those cases, it works because you don’t really notice it adding up, or you’re overcome by inertia.

The same will go for paid news, which is why surveys that ask people if they will pay for news are miseleading – of course they’d say no. If you’d asked people a generation ago if they’d pay for fancy coffee they’d have said no.

I was at The Punch’s drinks the other night. There were people from News Ltd in the room giving the distinct impression that there’s now a plan that they like. I’ve no idea what it is, but it’s very different to the confused vibes coming from other parts of the company even a few weeks ago.

Whatever the plan is, it will be driven by marketing and by making it easy.

And making things easy is also the theme behind Google Wave.

In that case, it’s going to be about sharing – gathering up conversations taking place on all parts of the web and putting them together in one place. The concept is more complicated than the experience, but it will be easy to share data, documents, images and email wherever they start. More than ever, Google will be the home page – possibly for some, the only site they sit on. It’s going to be hugely significant.

It’s been coming, but this week proves it – the future of digital is about sharing; it’s about marketing and most of all it’s about making it easy.

Tim Burrowes


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