In India, Music is Simply Mobile


Driving down the busy streets of New Delhi, it is not uncommon to see a billboard for Sony Ericsson advertising their latest Walkman phones, which also lure the potential buyers with a remix of a duet by Robbie Williams and the Indian diva Asha Bhosle.

The track is not available for general release; there are no videos in heavy rotation on the music video channels and little or no press. You can only get it when you buy a Sony Ericsson phone. The release strategy is a good showcase for the growing power of mobiles when it comes to digital music sales in this country.

Sure Indians love their iPods; that is, if they can get them. Instead, the real growing trend here is mobile phones as mp3 players, and it is not going away. The Cellular Operators’ Association of India estimates that the mobile music industry is around $115 million now (including ring tones, etc.) and is going to be around $170 million by the end of this year and will exceed the legitimate sales of physical music – compact disks and cassette tapes.

“The mobile music downloads [business] is growing at a scorching pace — over 50 percent a year,” TV Ramachandran, secretary general of COAI, told UPI last year.

With PC penetration abysmally low, and broadband connections still a few million, digital music in India in reality means mobile music. Given the growth of the mobile subscriber base, this trend is only going to grow. According to some reports, there are going to be 250 million connections in the country, making it one of the largest countries in terms of telephone subscribers.

A large portion of these revenues are coming from ringtones of various hues, but music track downloads are being viewed as the next big thing. Large handset makers and carriers are taking note.

Along with Sony Ericsson, Nokia is promoting mobile music in a big way and is pitching its N70, 5300, and 3250 series as mobile music devices.

We have previously written about Nokia’s mobile music efforts, which remain unseen by all of us in the U.S. Not in India. Here, Nokia is one of the most aggressive promoters of this concept and has been taking out full-page ads and advertising on youth-focused television networks.

Most, if not all carriers are pushing the concept in their commercials, mostly because it is a quick fix for ARPU woes. The only fly-in-the-ointment is lack of higher speed wireless networks. At present EDGE or 1xRTT are the best wireless speed options, which means at about 100 kilobits per second, a 4 MB music file can take a while to download. Given my personal experience with the shoddiness of Airtel and Hutch data networks, I wonder if the infrastructure can handle the mobile download business.

Nevertheless, folks from Soundbuzz, a backend provider for content and digital downloads seem to be pretty bullish on the market. The company is also a content aggregator like Napster. The 7-year-old company provides the technology platform that allows carriers like Tata, Airtel, and Hutchison to sell music and other wares.

“This year, India will be the second largest market in the world to see digital (both online and mobile) music sale outpace physical sales,” Mandar Thakur, General Manager of the country’s online music company Soundbuzz India, told IANS. (via ZDNet.)

If that is the case then the Cupertino Kings should seriously contemplate launching their iPhone in India in partnership with a local carrier. A tiny fraction of the population is happy to drop a few hundred dollars to buy up the latest phones. The very same fraction is happy to buy gray-market iPods.

A combo-package in this mobile-loving country could find a few hundred thousand buyers – and that’s a good start in a market that is growing by leaps and bounds.

Anyway more when I get back to the home office!



@Om >> interesting insights indeed. But I wonder why users would pay for full music track sales, when they can download it on phone memory through side transfer. Unlike CRBT, which simply can’t be set by users as it resides on the server, both ring tones and full track music can be directly downloaded. No wonder ring tone sales in India have plummeted in the recent past. May be real cheap monthly subscription for unlimited downloads woudl work? Would love to hear your views.

Sandeep Sinha

I recently came back after spending 3 weeks in India. Music is a very big component of life – and it is social thing. You not only want to hear it but make sure that everybody else around you can hear it. Even on mobile phones they want to be able to hear FM radio and music in the next room of their house. Nokia seems to have done a good job in putting powerful speakers in their phone (according to my cousin who is a gadget guru – though he loves his MotoMing’s design and UI).

Sramana Mitra

Very smart strategy, to put “proprietary” music released specially for phones. I can see, that your India vacation is going well!

alan p

Mobile music has typically withered in the OECD due to (i) the overall UI experience not matching iTunes and (ii) “sticker shock” from the transport cost of downloading the song.

Part (i) does not apply in India it seems, so can one assume (ii) is not as bad either?

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