Imagine a post-Napster world in which you can search for whatever song or album you want and then download it for free from within the results page. You then own that music, the official version, and can take it with you wherever you want.
That world exists, ladies and gentleman. It’s called China. But as Google has found out, it’s a pretty torrid one.
Overnight (US time), Google announced that it is shutting its free music service in China because, well, it wasn’t doing so well. “The impact of this product is not as great as we expected, so we decided to shift resources to other products,” the company said in a blog post, according to a translation provided by TechInAsia.
Not one to miss on opportunity to stomp on a jugular, search giant Baidu has quickly jumped in and changed the name of its music service from “Baidu Ting” to “Baidu Music”.
In China, the music industry never stood a chance of implementing an iTunes-like store for songs and albums. People would never pay for that stuff because piracy is too rampant. Just as we in the US have become accustomed to the right to carry a pistol to the supermarket, the Chinese consider it a right to get all of Justin Bieber’s work for free.
Baidu first came to dominance in China’s search market by blatantly exploiting that reality in offering a search engine for MP3s, caring little that the service was essentially illegal. Faced with a “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” situation, the major music labels eventually succumbed and agreed to release their catalogues to Baidu and Google in exchange for a share of ad revenue related to music search.
Google launched its free music service three years ago, and Baidu followed suit with Ting (which means “listen”) in May last year. Within a couple of months, it has landed a major licensing deal with One-Stop China, which represents Universal, Warner, and Sony.
Google’s departure from the music game clears more room for Baidu, but . But as TechInAsia reports, a bunch of startups are also trying to get in on the action as digital music switches emphasis to streaming. There’s jing.fm and Xiami, which has its very own Turntable.fm clone, and Grooveshark is also available in China. It’s likely that arts-friendly social network Douban will continue to grow in importance as a distribution channel and repository for indie musicians.
And what of Spotify? It is coming soon, but some think its monthly subscriptions are too expensive for most Chinese consumers. And in any case, it is likely to be trounced by the biggest dog in town: Tencent. Its ad-supported QQ Music service has about 200 million users and, as TechRice reports, just a touch of piracy.