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 amazon.com outside India. But the problem is that Apple and amazon.com are force-fitting their template for western music onto Bollywood music.
Take pricing. iTunes pricing for Bollywood songs is its standard 0.99c. Amazon.com 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 amazon.com. 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 amazon.com 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, amazon.com), 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.