As we wrote last week, Google is poised to launch a free music service in China with Top100.cn in a move to challenge local search leader Baidu. (full story and commentary here). Baidu enables search for illegal mp3's that Google blocks. We asked two China music industry watchers to react.
If Google's free music service in China eventually matches Baidu for clarity of results and efficiency of process then this will be a game-changer, not just in China, but globally," music consultant and writer Ed Peto wrote us from China. "Digital full tracks have been worthless since day one in China...Any content holders that go through with this deal will not only be yielding to the inexorable demands of the Chinese market, they will also be setting an irreversible precedent that will ultimately, inevitably be mirrored in all markets around the world: Digital music must be free to the user. As I said before, China will be quite a way ahead of the west in turning the corner into this more fluid consumption of digital music, so it is no surprise to see this precedent being set in China."
Music industry and China watcher Maths of Music 2.0 has a more critical view:
"The main guiding principle in this alliance seems to be "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" with Baidu being in the cross-hairs of all involved. (Plus:)
1) Google does not seem willing to be facing any of the labels/ publishers directly and have opted to bypass the circus completely by using Top100.cn as their front
2) Google injected funds into Top100.cn to...
clear the necessary rights as Top100.cn, despite their prior public positioning were carrying a number of illegal songs for sales too. It is not known how much of these rights that Top100.cn has actually cleared at this moment
3) EMI has already been sleeping with the enemy, Baidu and are noticably absent from the new legal action against Baidu by the IFPI. However, EMI had a prior relationship with Top100.cn so they could renew their relationship provided that the advance payments are big enough
4) Warner and Sony-BMG being willing to allow free mp3 downloads with no DRM will be an interesting development if it happens as they have been reluctant to do so in many markets
5) Top100.cn has yet to explain to some partners how they will contain downloading to within the China borders
6) Before we get caught up with this too much and herald this as the dawning of a new future, let's wait till the parties concerned do more work on this as it is still work in progress and the devil is in the details."
On at least the last point, Peto agrees, "It is still very early days though. Top100 is far from being a proven operator in China. Does it have the capacity to pull of such an audacious plan in a way which will be satisfactory to the user? Will users have to search in Google, then be redirected to Top100 where they have to register and then download? If so it will add a couple of layers of hassle that will make the whole operation uncompetitive, at least in the early stages."