Chantel Teng/THE VARSITY

Hypertabs is The Varsity‘s online features subsection about all things Internet. Our goal is to explore the depths of the online world and understand how it shapes our habits and affects our communities. You can read the other articles included in this project here.

Over the past several years, I have spent countless hours listening to Songza while on the TTC, doing chores, and or while studying. Last Sunday, I was heartbroken to find out that the versatile, useful and most importantly, free streaming service packed up its playlists and said goodbye to the world.

Owned by Google since 2014, Songza has now been absorbed into Google Play Music. In the weeks prior to it’s discontinuation, I visited the website, and was greeted by an enthusiastic pop up declaring the new amalgamation of the two services. The message also urged me to try Google Play Music, although Songza was still for the time being.

I gave Google Play Music a try and was seriously disappointed. The new interface was subpar. Songza’s iconic stick people, who had always helped me select an apporpriate playlist were nowhere to be seen. 

The most striking change, however, was the pervasive Google Play audio ads, and how they interfered with my listening experience, loudly announcing themselves between every few songs. My favourite playlists from Songza still exist, but I doubt that I’ll still be able to enjoy “Jazz for Reading” with an obnoxious promotion wedged between Wynton Kelly and Cedar Walton.

Worse, to get rid of these intrusive ads, I have to pay a monthly fee. Given that most businesses exist to earn profits, this requirement seems like an economically sound move for the company. In practice, however, this compromises the quality of the listener’s experience, and proving that the decision was a mistake.

Google Play Music’s ‘freemium model’ — where content is free, but an upgraded experience is available for cash — is a poor choice, simply because there are so many superior options. The service is competing with Apple Music, Tidal, Spotify and SoundCloud, among others. These competitors offer a similar pricing model — except SoundCloud, which is entirely free — and provide listeners with more tracks than Google Play Music. How, then, could Google Play possibly succeed in this music economy?

For these reasons, there is a good chance Google Play Music will go the way of the failed Google+, which is an irrelevant entity in the world of social networks, or Google Wave, a long-abandoned project. Even if Google wanted to rebrand Songza, they should have kept its business model, specifically, employing the use of banner ads to maintain sustainability. Even for users who find banner ads annoying, they are much less invasive and easier to avoid than the advertising model Google Play is currently employing.

If Google Play wants to reach the masses, freemium is not the way. Students with limited disposable income will likely opt for free options, and few will tolerate unavoidable ads that kill their buzz every 10 minutes.

Most students belong in the coveted millennial demographic that most marketing departments compete to capture,  and for that reason, our consumption habits influence product features. If we show dissatisfaction by refusing to use services like Google Play Music, alternatives that fulfill our needs will arise. So let Songza’s death not be in vain; a boycott of its poor substitute is in order.

Jaren Kerr is a third-year student at Innis College studying bioethics and writing & rhetoric. He is The Varsity‘s associate features editor.

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