It’s been a while since I have really blogged (test posts from blogging softwares obviously do not count). So, getting started again with something which I really live on. Music. Though less philosophical and more functional – I am going to do a series of posts on a bunch of stuff around music. The first one about online music stores in India – or rather the lack of them.
Q. So, don’t you wish there was an online music store in India? (Before you say Soundbuzz, or before you think I am an illiterate fool who hasn’t even heard the phrase peer-2-peer or used some such software, read on).
I agree most of us have our fill (for free!) using BitTorrent or even plain old Google, I think the the lack of a good online music store, is a rather embarrassing gap in the e-commerce industry in India. Infact, I think the e-commerce industry is something can be really fueled and driven by an online music store. Why is this so? Let’s investigate this a bit.
Consumers would ask: Why pay for digital music when you can get it for free?
To begin with, sample this and this. First page results lead you to downloadable mp3’s hosted on pakimp3s.org/indianpad.com or other sites like rapidshare.de. Plus I seriously believe that Indians are among the most guiltless when it comes to piracy (Or as Russell Peters would say : we are cheap). Of course, enforcement is also an issue here, but that needs to examined within a larger context – so later.
I am no saint either because I haven’t spent a penny on music for the last few years (except for buying the occasional song or two on Gomusic.ru and a few audio cassettes to play in my car).
But I really hate it when I can’t find a song online. I hate it when I get viruses acting like valid search results on on Limewire. I hate it when find no torrents, or worse still no seeds for a torrent file. I hate it when I have spent an hour looking for a song and still havent found it. I would pay to get that song online. And believe me this is not that one occasional song, it could be a whole catalogue of old music, which never has enough ‘peers’ compared to newer music.
Providers would ask: Where will I find paying customers?
First off, don’t count college students (or just out of college junta) who are probably the least likely to buy music, especially when the alternative is free.
But consider all these people. People who perceive using BitTorrent or even Limewire/Kazaa as geeky. People who don’t find these geeky but a waste of time – to avoid which they are willing to pay money. People who have bought swanky new iPods/Walkman Phones/or other mp3 players, but don’t have the first clue about how to get music on them (a subset of the first). People who actually buy CD’s. People who think downloading free music is piracy (a possible rarity).
I think all of the above are target customers for an online music store. And, most importantly, before you go on about online piracy – at least provide the consumer an alternative in the first place, because right now there is next to nothing. Obviously when there is no online music store, everyone will resort to downloading free music of illegal p2p networks.
Question no one has answered yet: What is a viable alternative?
This is where I count out Soundbuzz. Soundbuzz, while it does have a good catalogue of songs at reasonable prices – it suffers from that one big thing which plagues the online music industry in the US, and has been a hot topic of debate – DRM.
To put it simply, DRM is copy-protection technology which prevents the music being played on unauthorised computers, prevents conversion to other formats, limits burning on to CDs beyond a specific number and prevents it from being played on incompatible portable music devices.
In the case of Soundbuzz, it sells files in DRM’d .wma format which renders it unplayable on the most popular music players in India right now. So unplayable on my iPOD, Sony Walkman phones and my RAZR V3i. It only played on a friend’s Creative MuVo NX – and that too only if I transferred it using Windows Media Player (otherwise you can transfer songs on to the MuVo using Windows Explorer). Even Yashraj Films sells music in the same format. Also, in the US, inspite of DRM, at least there are enough stores to cater to all possible devices.
Compare all this with the ease with which you could play audio cassettes in any cassette player, CDs in any CD player and MP3s in practically every device.
So which brings us back to our first question with the additional condition – how do strike a balance between the interests of the concerned parties. Providers want to prevent music from from being pirated, yet that should not stifle the choice that the consumer has. That’s going to be the content of my next post – evaluation of the issue of Digital Rights Management in greater detail – and the hope that India might set a different yet successful example. (Chhota muh badi baat?)