Soundbuzz Plans DRM Free Music Store For India; Interview With Mandar Thakur

As the world moves towards a DRM free environment, we were wondering about how India would be affected. There was news of EMI and Soundbuzz planning to offer music DRM free in Asia, at a slightly higher cost. I spoke to Mandar Thakur, General Manager (India) for Soundbuzz, about his take on DRM, and whether Soundbuzz has plans to offer music DRM free apply to India as well.

Is Soundbuzz planning to offer music DRM-free in India?
We’ve been working on a DRM free store for about 5-6 months. The functionality of a with-DRM store is different from that without DRM, and we’ll be offering music DRM free in India soon. I think it’ll be great for India, where online has a limited role, and digital music is mostly on the mobile.
What’s holding online music back in India?
Well, for lack of internet penetration, limitations of payment mechanisms, and then there’s DRM. DRM is limiting, whichever way you look at it and a DRM-free model fundamentally works. It works in case of CDs, so the same logic should apply to digital downloads. The most important aspect is the interoperability of downloads. Right now, there are two dominant types of DRM – Apple and Microsoft, and you have to convert files from one format to the other to use – say, AAC to MP3. It’s much simpler on the mobile because the DRM works across all handsets, since the mobile phone manufacturers created a standard called OMA. The full track download service on Airtel, currently runs on OMA DRM. However, we’ve also got the clearance for making mobile downloads DRM free. Even online, you really can’t restrict your customer to an Apple vs Microsoft world.
So how do you intend to convince the labels here? What are their apprehensions, if any?
We’re discussing with labels, including EMI about moving to DRM-free contracts. For music companies in India, the last couple of years were about testing the waters. They had their apprehensions – and they’ve figured that the future lies online. But there were accustomed to certain restrictions (DRM) which were valid at that time. Now that another change is in offing, and they rightly have apprehensions about piracy. A few labels like EMI and the South India Music Companies Association (SIMCA) are really the front runners. Today you can copy even if you use a physical CD and it’s possible to make copies even in a DRM locked world. Look at emusic – it’s probably the second largest music retailer in the US, and it’s been DRM free for two years, just that no major labels are on board.
What impact with DRM-free have on pricing?
That we can’t reveal at this point in time, but what I can tell you is that there are two models of pricing – a la carte, and album. We will be introducing a subscription model too, that will give people access to some content for a discounted price. Depends on how much bang for the buck you can give to your customer.