Bollywood Music – the Android Opportunity

Can Indian digital music become a legitimate business? Or will it stay stuck with a 20th century distribution model?

You might say that Bollywood is already digital. You already get popular music on iTunes and outside India. But the problem is that Apple and are force-fitting their template for western music onto Bollywood music.

Take pricing. iTunes pricing for Bollywood songs is its standard 0.99c. is the same, though I saw a few songs for 0.89c. The Dabangg CD costs what? Rs. 150? For 10 songs. That works out to 0.33c per song. And the shame is that the 0.99 pricing is not because the Indian studios want that pricing. It is because Apples forces a standard template on everyone.

There are a bunch of other things that I would expect from a music service that specialized in Indian music. Don’t expect these from Apple or Correcting spellings, for instance. I find the “did you mean ….” in Google is very helpful. But when I am looking for music on iTunes for the movie Awaara, I don’t know how it’s spelt. Aawaara picks up something, so does Awara, but neither is Raj Kapoor’s Awaara, which is what I want. It should be so easy to build an intelligent, forgiving search for spelling Indian movies in English.

Here’s what came up when I was looking for Dabang on iTunes (instead of Dabangg).

Indian popular music is about the movies. The movie is part of the experience of the song. It is also a revenue making opportunity. Sell music videos. The cross sell opportunity between music, music videos and the movie itself is enormous. It is not being leveraged at all today.

I am sure Bollywood executives wonder about how to leverage this opportunity. Indian music is just too different. It’s not just a matter of pricing. Waiting for Apple or to wake up to the opportunity is not the answer. So what do they do?

There is a way opening up. Because of Android, 3G and more broadband.

As I write this, I am listening to Shreya Ghoshal on iTunes/MacBook – WiFi – Airport Express – Denon receiver – Polk speakers. But most digital music is consumed through a portable player. The world’s dominant portable music player is the iPod (and the iPhone). The iPod never really caught on in India. Neither did the iPhone. Too expensive. So most of the market comprises of cellphone mp3 players.

Android is going to be big in India. People who own cellphone mp3 players today will have Android phones within 2 years. Android is the perfect platform to build a digital music player for. And its user base will have size and depth.

I think Bollywood should do a Hulu. Two or three leading studios [labels] should come together with a VC and form a company. The company’s mission should be to build a digital music business in India.

There are many models out there that could be candidates. Download with/without DRM (iTunes,, Subscription (Spotify), Streaming and ad supported (Pandora). The technology too is mature. Scores of Indians in the Bay Area have the expertise to build digital media systems.

The key challenge is on the deal-making side of things. The ownership of copyright in India is a little more complicated than in the US. Also, the industry is more fragmented. To get a critical mass of copyright owners on board will take a lot of doing. But hopefully, the opportunity ahead is what will convince them to sign up.


  1. Brij says:

    Good idea but the problem is the size of the market willing to pay? Most if not all Bollywood music is pirated and available to download for free on Internet. Requires a culture change OR solid copyright enforcement.

    BTW try using sites like for search. They will take you to Amazon to buy music. Prices are still 0.99 though.


  2. Param says:

    Basab – If you believe that all music (Bollywood or otherwise) should be cheaper, it’s one thing. But it seems to me that you are arguing for only Bollywood music to be cheaper. I don’t understand your logic of comparing the iTunes/Amazon price in the US with the price of CD in India. How does the iTunes price for Dabangg songs compare against the Dabangg CD in the US? Are you suggesting that the pickle and garam masala you buy from the Indian store in Fremont should cost the same as in India? Even if your argument is only for digital products (incremental cost) my question is why? If you like your R.D. Burman as much as your Beatles, what’s wrong in paying the same price for their music? I would argue that the average purchasing power of an Indian in America is higher than the country average and if everybody else can pay 99c, Indians should not have qualms about dishing out the dough. It seems like we Indians never get out of the mode of wanting to enjoy an American lifestyle at Indian expense levels.


    1. You make a good point. You charge what the traffic can bear. And NRIs can certainly afford to pay $0.99 per song. They also can pay higher prices for CDs in the Indian stores.

      But do they charge a $0.99 price because they want to, or because Apple forces them to. Apple has a uniform pricing rule which it enforces on everybody. Selling to the affluent public in developed economies, it may be OK to charge that price. But $0.99 is not going to work in India.

      So, the choice is for Bollywood to tie itself to the apron strings of Apple and, who are focused on advanced markets. Or to do something to address the Indian market.

      In ten years, the Indian market for digital music could be a) small, because Apple and amazon make it available in India, but it is not a focus market, b) zero, because they never come to India or c) huge, because Bollywood takes matters into its own hands.


      1. Param says:

        Agree with your point on some form of consolidation. I think you really mean the music labels when you talk about studios (since the studios sell off the music rights to music labels). I would love to see such a consolidation work but the labels seem headed in the opposite direction with some of them setting up big, bloated online stores. Do they really expect users to go – “I want Dabangg songs. Dabangg’s music label is T-series. Let me go to the T-series website and buy the songs.” People just don’t think like that. I think the disruption has to come from outside the music industry (a la iTunes). Hungama has made inroads but it has a long way to go.


  3. @Param,

    Music is owned by labels in the US/UK and everywhere where music primarily comes from bands. In India, I think it may be different. Studios ‘hire’ music directors and artistes to create the music for the movie. They then sell the rights to distributing the music to a label. The question is, does the digital music rights travel with it? Also, who is the ultimate copyright holder? I think the label may have just purchased a license to cut CDs and sell the music. There is also the question of the music videos – who is the copyright holder there? Surely, its the studio.

    Anyways, it is complicated. It’s been a while since I looked at it, but I seem to recall another twist. That the artistes get some compensation from radio stations for playing their music. Does this royalty apply to internet radio as well?

    Maybe the answer is for leading labels and studios to come together and create a Hulu-like player.


    1. Param says:

      Studios/Producers relinquish all rights to the music. The labels own copyrights along with the authors, i.e, music directors and lyricists (the singers don’t have any rights since they have no creative input into the music). I am not clear about the specifics but I think it goes something like this – The % distribution between the labels, music directors and lyricist is negotiated album to album (the label may buy out authors’ rights completely in some albums). Music directors like AR Rahman are able to negotiate much larger shares. Lyricists get a very small share (you might have seen news about Javed Akhtar lobbying for a larger share for lyricists). PPL manages licensing and royalty collection for music labels (except T-Series that manages it inhouse). IPRS does the same for the authors (can include labels if they hold complete rights). Radio stations (internet or FM) need to purchase licenses from PPI and IPRS. Some radio stations have contested that only one license (PPI) should be adequate and there are ongoing lawsuits to decide the case.
      Music video – I think it’s shared between the producer and the music label+authors.


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