With desi music services yet to a gain a strong foothold in the Indian market, are we ready for the iTunes story yet, questions Anita Iyer
Even as Apple has a loyal base of customers in India for its products, the company has conspicuously kept its music service – iTunes at bay. Much to the disappointment of hardcore fans, the company sidestepped India as it recently announced the launch of the iTunes store in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and nine other countries in Asia.
What has added fuel to the ire of loyalists is that, while smaller markets like Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Vietnam figure on the rooster, markets like India and China have been left behind. With a vast repertoire of local and international music from major and independent labels, Apple offers over 20 million downloadable songs in these countries.
So, what could be the reason for Apple evading India? Ralph Simon, CEO Mobilium Global, who has been following the pulse of the Indian digital industry for a long time, however believes that iTunes should be in India in the next 12 to 24 months. “I personally don’t think they are evading India. They are rather driven by how to plug in immediate substantial bandwidth and connectivity in the target markets they go for. The recent Asia-Pac platform was the subject of months of research and on the ground analysis. My personal view is that Apple will indeed come to India – when they deem it fit to do so.”
Times Music COO Mandar Thakur affirms that it is a no brainer that iTunes will be in the country within two years. Thakur sees the premium service as a resurrection of digital music and lists his reasons for iTunes’ entry in India. “RBT and all other typical telco products are all very early generation products of the digital business. So much so, that the rest of the world has moved on to hi- definition streaming services that engage the consumer far better and we are still dependent on these. Due to the “walled” nature of the RBT business, it has become as good or bad as a physical business, and not even worthy of the true term called ‘digital music’ anymore. RBTs have started to even out – which means that we need “open garden” telco/device agnostic services like Spotify, Pandora and Rdio etc all the more. iTunes – though locked in the Apple ecosystem, will be a much welcome change.”
While some cite the licensing and IPR issues as a reason for Apple not venturing into India, it is certainly not the case as OnMobile head of content Atul Churamani says, “Licensing cannot be an issue as all the Indian music is available on their international store.”
It must be noted that catalogues of all leading music labels in the country are available on the global iTunes store. Industry insiders insist that Bollywood music is to a certain extent one of the top selling content on the store, owning to its popularity.
Churamani blames the consumption pattern in India for iTunes’ delay in debuting here. “Look at the buying pattern in India, consumers are not picking up legitimate music. It seems that iTunes is not certain about their business here yet. The present online stores are not doing large revenues, it would be a challenge for iTunes to come in and change that status.”
The desi options
iTunes, a locked service for Apple users, faces stiff competition from Nokia and Android handset users, who dominate the mobile market here, due to the economical alternatives offered. Research firm Gartner’s recent report states that Samsung took back the world’s No 1 smartphone position from Apple, selling 38 million smartphones worldwide.
A high percentage of sales for Apple products in India come from the grey market and the shrinking legal numbers don’t justify their Indian entry. Radio One MD Vineet Singh Hukmani offers a contrary view though. “It has nothing to do with user base. iTunes worked in the US only because it had first mover advantage. iTunes is too late for India as it offers nothing new to an Indian music user either in terms of value or convenience.”