Why can’t you buy music on Google Play anymore?

Google Play Music was a music and podcast streaming service and online music locker operated by Google. It launched in November 2011 as the Google Music Store, allowing users to purchase music from the Google Play store to store on their cloud accounts and stream or download later. Key features included:

  • Streaming cloud-based music library of up to 50,000 songs
  • Music purchases and rentals from Google Play Music store
  • Uploading and storing personal music collection on the cloud
  • Curated playlists and intelligent recommendations

Over the years, Google Play Music gained modest popularity especially among Android users. By 2020, it had a combined subscriber base of 20 million with YouTube Music according to USA Today. However, it did not reach the scale and market dominance of competitors like Spotify and Apple Music.

In May 2020, Google announced it would be shutting down Google Play Music later in the year, transitioning users and libraries over to YouTube Music, Google’s newer music streaming service deeply integrated with YouTube.

Shutdown Announcement

Google Play Music shut down on December 1, 2020 in all countries except South Africa. Google officially announced the shutdown on August 4, 2020 (https://www.theverge.com/2020/8/4/21354136/google-play-music-shut-down-end-service-youtube-music-date). In the announcement, Google cited the transition to YouTube Music as the main reason for shutting down Google Play Music. Google wanted to focus its efforts on a single music platform built on YouTube’s ecosystem.

The shutdown announcement was not a surprise to most customers since Google had been transitioning features over to YouTube Music for a while. However, some loyal Google Play Music users were upset about losing a service they loved and having to migrate their libraries. There were complaints about YouTube Music’s inferior features and interface compared to Google Play Music (https://support.google.com/youtubemusic/thread/62843644/google-play-music-music-play-store-music-manager-are-going-away-%E2%80%93-everything-you-need-to-know?hl=en).

Transition to YouTube Music

In May 2020, Google announced that YouTube Music would officially replace Google Play Music by December 2020.

Google encouraged Google Play Music users to initiate the transfer of their music libraries and recommendations to YouTube Music to ensure a smooth transition. Key features of YouTube Music include:

  • Personal media uploads to store and access private collection
  • Official songs, albums, playlists, and artist radio stations
  • Curated mood, activity, and genre playlists
  • Intelligent search within songs, playlists, and filters

The transfer process aims to replicate one’s Google Play Music library of songs, albums, playlists, and recommendations to their YouTube Music account for a seamless transition experience.

Why Shut Down Google Play Music?

Google announced the shutdown of Google Play Music in favor of focusing on YouTube Music, their newer streaming service aimed at competing with Spotify and Apple Music (source). A major factor was the competitive streaming music market, with Spotify and Apple Music controlling a large majority of subscribers.

Shifting business strategies also played a role. YouTube has become Google’s main platform for streaming media and music, especially among younger audiences. Integrating Google Play Music into YouTube Music allowed them to consolidate features and subscribers into one centralized streaming app.

As noted in this article, by October 2020, Google Play Music libraries and data began permanently shutting down. This forced any remaining Google Play Music subscribers to transition over to YouTube Music before losing access. The integration sought to leverage YouTube’s larger user base in streaming entertainment and provide more seamless access between music and music videos.

User Library Impact

Google Play Music and YouTube Music had different approaches to managing user music libraries. Google Play Music allowed users to upload up to 50,000 personal audio files to the cloud [1]. YouTube Music had a cap of 5,000 personal uploads [2]. As a result, many users found that not all of their uploaded Google Play Music audio files transferred over when they migrated to YouTube Music.

Another issue was that some users had purchased music on Google Play Music that did not get transferred to YouTube Music properly [3]. So their collections were incomplete after the migration process finished. This led to frustration and complaints from longtime Google Play Music users. Many felt they lost access to music they had rightfully paid for and owned.

Overall, most music like songs, albums, and playlists migrated fine. But personal audio file uploads and purchased songs were problem areas that negatively impacted Google Play Music user libraries when they transitioned over to YouTube Music.

Impact on Purchased Music

When Google Play Music shut down, any music purchased through the service was no longer accessible to users (source). This included both individual song purchases and full album purchases. The DRM protections on these files prevented users from downloading and keeping their purchased music after the shutdown.

Unfortunately, any money spent purchasing music through Google Play was essentially lost with no way to retrieve or download the purchased files. There was no option provided to download purchased music libraries or transfer purchases to other services like YouTube Music. Many users expressed frustration over losing access and control of music they had paid for (source).

The shutdown has brought into focus issues around ownership and DRM in digital music purchases. Consumers do not actually own the music they buy – the shutdown took away all access with no recourse. This will likely make some users hesitant about spending money to purchase digital music going forward.

Alternatives for Users

When Google Play Music shut down in 2020, millions of users were left seeking alternative platforms for listening to music. According to reddit user discussions on r/googleplaymusic, the top alternatives recommended as replacements for Google Play Music included Spotify, Deezer, and Pandora.

An article from 9to5Google also highlighted Spotify and Deezer as two of the best options for former Google Play Music users, along with other recommendations like Pandora, Tidal, YouTube Music, and Apple Music.

Former Google Play Music users had to consider factors like music library transfer, playlist migration, pricing structure, functionality, and catalog size when selecting an alternative. Platforms like Spotify and Deezer offered enough similarities and music transfer options to make the transition easier for many users.

What Google Could Have Done Differently

Google could have handled the shutdown of Google Play Music better in several ways to make the transition easier for users. First, they could have given more advance notice before shutting it down. According to the Consumer Reports article, users only received a couple months notice via email before the service was discontinued. Providing 6-12 months notice could have allowed users more time to transition libraries.

Secondly, Google could have built better import tools to transfer playlists and libraries easily to YouTube Music. As reported in this Ars Technica article, many users complained about issues with imported libraries missing albums, incorrect metadata, and lost playlists. Smoothing out the import process could have prevented user frustration.

Finally, Google could have kept Google Play Music operating in read-only mode temporarily during the transition. This would have allowed users continued access to their purchased content while still encouraging them to transfer to YouTube Music. Slowing down the shutdown timeline in this way could have made the changeover less disruptive. Overall, addressing these areas with more care and consideration for users could have greatly improved Google’s handling of the shutdown.

The Future of YouTube Music

Since the shutdown of Google Play Music, YouTube Music has seen significant growth and expansion of features. According to this article, YouTube Music gained over 30 million new users following the transition from Google Play Music.

New features that have been added to YouTube Music include enhanced recommendations powered by Google’s AI, personalized playlists based on listening history and likes/dislikes, support for uploading up to 100,000 personal tracks for streaming, and an improved library management system.

YouTube Music also integrated podcasts and audiobooks into the service in 2021. This positions YouTube Music as an all-in-one destination for music, podcasts, and more. Features like background listening and downloads for offline play also help YouTube Music compete with top streaming platforms.

Looking ahead, YouTube Music subscriptions now include the YouTube Premium video service. This bundled offering provides value for users who want both an ad-free music experience alongside ad-free YouTube video streaming. Analysts expect strong continued growth for YouTube Music as Google further integrates the service into its ecosystem.


In summary, Google Play Music was shut down in late 2020 after operating for over a decade. Google transitioned users and libraries over to the new YouTube Music platform that had already been in development. The shutdown likely occurred to consolidate Google’s music streaming offerings into one service and better compete against Spotify, Apple Music and others.

For users, the transition meant needing to transfer libraries, potentially losing purchases, and learning a new interface. The shutdown serves as a reminder that cloud-based digital media can go away at any time. While Google tried to make the transition easy, they likely could have given users more advance notice.

Going forward, YouTube Music aims to be the new home for music streaming across Google platforms. It remains to be seen how competitive the revamped service will be. Users have learned from the Google Play Music shutdown to not take access to cloud libraries for granted, and to always maintain local backups of purchased content when possible.

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