Today was Mother’s Day. My gift for my wife was a compilation of Bollywood songs on a CD that she can play during her commute. I spent a good bit of time on Saavn and iTunes to put the compilation together. It got me thinking about the Indian digital music scene once again.
Saavn is a new and upcoming internet music streaming service for Indian music. You can stream any song in their very comprehensive library on demand. The quality of streaming is pretty good, at least out here in the US. The website is simple to use, though some minor UX issues could do with some attention. (btw, why don’t songs have composers as a field?)
You can make your own playlists, or just play playlists that other people have saved. I used their Weekly Top Songs as a jumping off point for my compilation.
Raaga is a competing website that has been around longer. Both these websites have the same ad supported business model. Currently, it is mostly display ads. Eventually, I expect audio ads. Both websites have Android and iPhone apps.
Overall, this ad-supported on-demand streaming model seems the most interesting thing happening in Indian digital music. They have completely handed over control of the download business to Apple, which is a shame. But that’s a different subject.
Funny thing is, this model doesn’t exist for digital music in the US. Here, on demand streaming is like owning the song. With wireless broadband now, for all practical purposes, one is never cut off from the cloud. If I can stream any song at-will, with high quality streaming it’s not very different from owning it.
In the US therefore, there is no ad-supported on-demand streaming model. You can subscribe to a whole library for a period of time which means more $$ (Rhapsody). Or you can buy and download all the songs you want for much more $$ (iTunes). [In Europe, Spotify is a little like Saavn, which is why they are having trouble entering the US].
Then there is the ad-supported model called internet radio. The differentiating characteristic of internet radio is that the user has no control over what song is played next. Pandora, the leader in this model, is expected to have an IPO soon. In India Bombay Production follows this model.
How is it that Indian digital music seems to be evolving very differently from western digital music? The answer is what I will call the Galapagos effect. The way unique species developed on the Galapagos island (or Madagascar) because it was cut off from the mainland, the same way, Indian digital music is insulated enough from the western industry that it can and will mould itself differently.
Copyright law is very tricky. It differs from country to country. Which is why you can’t get Pandora outside the US. Or Netflix. Or many books on the Kindle. It also works the other way, as in the case of Spotify.
Indian copyright law is different enough that Pandora or Rhapsody is going to avoid the hassle and instead focus on its US business.
But that’s not all. Broadband infrastructure is a key enabler for digital music. In India, that infrastructure so far has been well behind developed countries’. In fact, it might be argued that so far, the target listener for Saavn like companies has been mainly the NRI. This might change soon as broadband and 3G penetration increase.
So, while Pandora, Spotify and Rhapsody pass on the Indian market, it leaves white spaces for startups to exploit. That is, until Apple decides to go after the Indian market. They already have almost the entire market for Indian digital music. And they are rumored to be planning a cloud service for streaming your music. Which will be easy to extend since Indian copyright laws allow it.
In the meanwhile, I’m not complaining. I get to listen to any song I want on Saavn for free. If I’m feeling lazy I go to Bombay Production. It’s free and uninterrupted. Pretty good deal.
But I worry about the future. I want Saavn to survive. This morning I spent 2 hours on pulling together my compilation. Most of that was on Saavn which was incredibly useful. But then I went and spent $20 on iTunes. Doesn’t seem fair.