China has long been one of the most fascinating yet problematic markets for recorded music, certainly from the perspective of western labels and artists.
Potentially huge audiences, and plenty of innovation around technology and digital business models, but also the perception of a widespread, deeply-ingrained culture of piracy. But as time has gone on, the prospect of turning the latter around has encouraged a growing number of companies – local and international alike – to put more energy into China.
Warner Music Group is the latest, with a couple of very interesting deals announced yesterday. First, it has completed its acquisition of Chinese music company Gold Typhoon Group, bolstering its roster of local artists and catalogue.
Second, it’s working with internet giant Tencent to distribute WMG’s repertoire to Chinese digital music services, while also promoting artists across Tencent’s various digital and social platforms, including streaming service QQ Music. On paper, it looks like a partnership full of potential, although experience tells us to wait and see just how effective it is.
But back to that culture of piracy, or to be more accurate, that culture of free digital music, with long-running efforts to nudge it into a legal framework through ad-supported services.
The China Music Business site has a long post this morning on what’s happening with Taylor Swift in China, claiming that just as her catalogue has been removed from Spotify in the west, so it’s also being taken down from the free parts of Chinese streaming services.
CMB suggests that this means Swift’s music is now available “to less than 1% of the digital music audience” in China, due to the “negligible” adoption of premium subscriptions so far.
Wang Hao, CEO of Alibaba-owned streaming service Xiami, isn’t mincing words over the takedown. “I personally believe this is a stupid move by Taylor Swift. It’s also ungrateful; she has used the Internet to generate hype, then cut the Internet out,” he said. “We don’t believe that this move will bring many subscribers – that’s just wishful thinking on the part of the rightsholder.”
QQ Music’s Andy Ng is more diplomatic, albeit with a twist: “We hope that in the future, when there is a chance to meet with the decision maker, we can explain more about the current situation and explore other ways in which to tackle problems and change the market accordingly, as Tencent knows online user behaviour more than someone with no experience in Internet market.”
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