Mobile Music Downloads Still Struggling To Take Off

The music industry as we know it is undergoing serious turmoil. Technology has advanced far more quickly than music labels have, and it feels like they're still grasping for a new business model. A lot of things are moving in various directions; there's iTunes, there's the various subscription services, there's the CD business and there's the mobile music business. iTunes has obviously done well for itself, overtaking Wal-Mart as the largest seller of music in the United States. Rhapsody and Zune subscription services also have great value, but one area that's struggling mightily is the mobile download avenue.

It's odd to think that a mobile service would be struggling given the explosion in popularity of smartphones and mobile data consumption. Nearly everything in mobile has been used more now than ever; people are more connected to mobile maps, mobile social networking apps, etc. But mobile downloads in music? Not so much. According to a new report on the matter, less than 2% of mobile users in the U.S. and western Europe have "used their phone to download music in the first quarter."

24% of users used their phones to listen to music, but obviously, the vast majority loaded those songs before they left the house. The biggest problem is usability. Most mobile download services aren't easy and quick to navigate. Mobile users are typically on-the-go, with only a small amount of time to tinker with their phone and find whatever music they may be craving. But even with sophisticated services, such as the mobile version of iTunes, it's not very convenient to download a song onto a device and then try to get it onto your PC later. Also, when stuck in spotty 3G areas (or worse, 2G/EDGE), it could take quite awhile to download an entire album.

Is there any way for music companies to convince more mobile users to access, download and buy music on their phones? It's hard to say, but honestly a lot of it is out of their hands. Once 4G covers the nation, now that might be a different story...