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Friday, February 16, 2007

The MP3 Wars - How Music Companies Can Emerge Victorious

I had written about it a long time ago (September 13, 2005 to be precise):

Online piracy has been for long a nuisance to the music industry. Much publicised battles have been fought on the web and in the courts, but with limited success. What escapes the attention of the media is the deluge of offline MP3s. The large scale proliferation of home PCs and dirt-cheap MP3 players have only magnified the malice. A little bargaining can get you a CD loaded with 150 'superhit' songs for Rs. 20 (45 cents). The sidewalks of the metros and the mofussil towns are stacked with the stuff. Neighbourhood rental shops also rent them out - Rs. 10 only. Downloading the equivalent from the net would have cost many times more. Purchasing the original CDs - forget it.

The quality might not be great, but it is more than worth the price paid. The customer is happy. He no longer has to empty his wallet or inflate his credit card bills at the cash counters of music stores.

The music industry does not seem to have learnt its lesson. They are concentrating only on the ethical and legal aspects. Their anti-piracy blitzkrieg is limited to an ad here and a raid there. After a few days of lull the pirates are again back to business. What they should have realised is that the advantage the pirates have is in the price. Low priced original movie DVDs and VCDs have dented the pirates' market-share. Its now the turn of the music industry to go for competitive (read pirate unfriendly) and consumer friendly pricing.

One fact that I fail to comprehend. A CD costs less to produce than an audio cassette. Then why does the same music on a CD cost at least three times than that on an audio cassette?

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - Dum Mast MastAnd a few days ago when I stepped into a music store and I found out exactly how music companies can win in this battle. Most of the MP3 albums that music companies (the legit ones) release are either instrumental or cover versions of popular numbers. The original is still relegated to the overpriced audio CDs. Therefore I was surprised to find a huge number of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's MP3 CDs on the rack (there were others too). They were from T-Series. I looked at the price; it was a very pleasant Rs 35 (around 75 cents). The number of songs, 35. That's merely a rupee a song!

The 35 songs might occupy only 236MB of the disc space and you'd say what a waste of 464MB. Could have fitted in 90 more numbers. Even the packaging looks cheap. But at a rupee a song you just can't ask for better. And T-Series' MP3 bouquet of original music is increasing. Other companies should take a lesson from the company which gave them a run for their money since it began operations two-decades ago. The alleged pirates of the 1980s are showing the way to fight the pirates of the 2000s.

I didn't hesitate a moment before purchasing the CD. Not will others, given the price and the choice available. I would rather not waste half-a-day looking for 'free' stuff on the net and another half downloading it. Is anyone else hearing me?

I had got my very first Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan album back in the mid-nineties for Rs 27 (an audio cassette), and that too was from T-Series. Titled Mera Piya Ghar Aaya, it had Madhuri Dixit (performing in the lifted number) on the cover.