Western music fans have no shortage of digital music services to choose
from, and that abundance is spreading around the world. Apple's iTunes
is in 119 countries, and others are racing to plant their digital flags
everywhere. This week, for example, Spotify opened in Italy, Poland and
Portugal, bringing its reach to 23 countries.
But just as
interesting, and in the long run perhaps as significant to competition,
is the rise of services that serve regional markets intensely. One is
Saavn, a Spotify-like streaming service that specializes in Indian music
and has garnered 10.5 million monthly users with advertising-supported
free listening. This week it will announce that it has taken another
page from Spotify's book, by offering a premium version at $4 a month
that eliminates the ads, lets users listen to songs offline and will
eventually add other features like higher quality audio.
which has offices in New York, India and Mountain View, Calif., has a
catalog of 1.1 million songs in nine languages and is available in more
than 200 countries, with about 70 percent of its consumption within
India, said Rishi Malhotra, one of its founders. Like Spotify,
iHeartRadio and other Western services, it is an official partner of
Facebook. About 80 percent of its use is on mobile devices, Malhotra
said, and when the premium service, Saavn Pro, begins in March, it will
at first be available only for Apple devices.
The pricing is significantly lower than what Western services offer.
wanted to make it globally acceptable," said Malhotra, who is based in
New York. "The $10 price point that you see from a lot of music services
we use here is way out of reach from what would fly in India or a lot
of other emerging markets."
Saavn believes it can succeed
in India not only through its catalog of Bollywood hits but also through
technological touches that may be meaningful only to Indian listeners.
One example is the ability to search for a Bollywood song based on the
actor who lip-syncs it - often more memorable to fans than the
"playback" singer who provided the voice.
Saavn Pro could give the company an advantage in India's quickly
developing digital music market, which already has a handful of
streaming services, like Dhingana, as well as a strong presence in
downloads from Nokia. Yet that market is still tiny for a country of
India's size and overall media spending. A recent report by Ernst &
Young said that music and radio combined count for only 2.4 percent of
India's media and entertainment spending, which for 2011 it estimated at
Part of the reason for music's small
proportion of India's media economy is that popular music in India is
dominated by the film industry. But a greater reason is piracy; the
federation estimates that 55 percent of Internet users in India go to
unlicensed music services on a monthly basis. That is slowly starting to
change, music executives say, as courts there crack down on
infringement and legitimate digital services proliferate. Apple's iTunes
opened there in December, and Nokia says it sells 1.4 million songs a
day at its download store in India.
And Indian record
companies are approaching digital business without the baggage that has
been complicating deals with Western labels and services for more than a
decade, Malhotra added.
"The labels in India are not
reluctant about digital," he said. "It's not like they are protecting
against some established, older revenue stream. It's all found revenue
© 2013, The New York Times News Service