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YouTube Music Subscriptions Are (Almost) Here. Will You Pay to Watch Without Ads?

The world's biggest music service thinks some of you want to pay $10 a month.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

YouTube is the world’s largest music service. And soon, some of you will have the chance to pay for it.

As promised — many times — YouTube is finally starting to roll out a paid version of itself that’s focused on music and music videos.

Emphasis on starting: Today, the company is overhauling the free version of its Android app, and next week it’ll start inviting some of its users to try a new subscription feature, which it’s building into the Android app (no unbundling here). People with iPhones will get it … eventually, YouTube says. [UPDATE: That was fast – Google says it will have an iOS version available next week]

So what is it? It’s a little confusing, in a Googley way, but the main thrust is that the paid version of YouTube will give users the ability to watch music videos without ads, take those videos with them when they’re offline, and to turn YouTube into a music player that you can run in the background while you do other tasks on your phone.

Oh! And anyone who pays — it’s free during the invitation-only beta, and then $8 a month for some people, and then $10 a month for everybody else — will also get a free subscription to Google All Access, the other, Spotify-like subscription service Google is already offering.

Like I said, confusing.

I haven’t tried the new YouTube subscription service yet — after many stops and starts, this rollout seems oddly rushed, and the company demoed it for me remotely, via a Google Hangout — so I can’t tell you how it works.

I can tell you there’s massive skepticism in the music and video world about its chances. The conventional wisdom is that a core feature of YouTube is that it’s free, and that YouTube’s audience is unlikely to change its mind about that — and that even if they wanted to, many YouTube watchers couldn’t pay, because they’re kids.

But this is also quite clearly one of the reasons YouTube and Google want to launch this subscription service — and more in the future, per YouTube boss Susan Wojcicki: The company makes a lot of money from ads, but it doesn’t want to be dependent on a single revenue stream. It wants consumers to start paying up for some features.

YouTube music subscriptions are also quite clearly designed in part to appeal to music labels, who have become okay with streaming music, but aren’t very satisfied with the ones that give away music for free, and live solely on advertising — like Pandora. They like the paid services, or at least the ones that try to guide you to pay — like Spotify.

That tension, as it happens, is at the core of the Taylor Swift-Spotify dustup. Note that Taylor Swift’s stuff is all over YouTube, for free — people have watched the video below more than 257 million times. Now you can pay to watch it, too.

Will you?

This article originally appeared on

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