We have just published a report examining the digital music adoption patterns of the different regions around the globe. While there are pockets of sunshine, the overall picture indicates that making money from digital music is tough everywhere. Europeans for instance are quite savvy in both online and mobile music activities but have yet to start buying digital downloads in meaningful numbers. In the US, which took the lead early on in online music activities and paying for downloads; adoption is starting to plateau even before hitting mass market. And across Asia, mobile is king but piracy is and will likely remain a big issue in all but a few of the countries. 


I also happened to be in India, part of the time that I was writing this report. Here are a few observations on digital music adoption in India:


  • "Paid downloads, what is that?" – I received the most baffled looks when I asked the teenagers I came across which websites they use for paying for digital downloads. “Do you mean CDs?” one said. When I explained that I meant MP3s the answer I received was “Why would you pay for MP3s, they are available for free.” When I insisted that it was illegal to do that they just shook their heads. In fact, most people I talked to didn’t associate downloading music for free online with piracy. The music industry will have an uphill battle in the developing world, trying to convince consumers that file sharing is wrong.
  • Mobile music adoption is high, courtesy of Bluetooth – In a country where only 6 percent of people are online, 52 percent listen to music on their phones. How do these people get music on their phones? The answer is Bluetooth. People also get their phones topped up with music at places where they buy pre-paid minutes–and it’s mostly for free.
  • Radio and mobile are best friends– FM radio is quite vibrant. There is tough competition between stations for audience and differentiation based on formats is hard to achieve (Its all Bollywood, all the time). Thus, stations rely heavily on personalities and contests for ratings. At the time of my visit, a prominent radio station was, in fact, running a contest about radio personalities. They were asking listeners to text in to save the job of their favorite jock (one of the two hosts of a show had to be laid off, according to the station manager, due to recession). All contests, including this one, run on mobile based participation since online penetration is so low. Songs on the radio are also preceded by a message about the short code that can be texted to receive the song as a ring tone.


While my experience in India is somewhat unique to the country it does have parallels with rest of the developing world. Digital music is gaining popularity but copyright enforcement is a low priority and free music habits are solidifying every day.