So finally, the much talked about Google MP3 Search service is here at www.google.cn/music
And it’s certainly game on as they take on Baidu’s very illegal mp3 search with legal links from its search results provided by local music service Top 100.cn for free streaming, free mp3 downloads and lyrics supported by advertising revenue, and paid Caller RingBack Tones (CRBT) via China Mobile - with rights being cleared by most major labels (with probably one major holdout), publishers and a number of domestic labels for mainly Chinese music.
Inevitably the talk is going to be about whether this is going to be a game changer or not.
But first a quick preview of the site for the benefit of international readers as Google Music Search is inaccessible outside of China
For a start, this free ad-supported mp3 download service is invariably more impressive than similar international services like We7 and Spiral Frog as it is DRM-free and users can keep the downloaded mp3s forever while being able to transfer it to portable devices without any restrictions.
But the battle lines for this service are instead drawn in China as Google squares off with Baidu who have made a fortune from illegal mp3 search which accounts for as much as 30% of its traffic. Where Baidu has been greedily keeping all of its advertising revenue with the exception of the recent knee-jerk attempt to share revenue with a few selected labels, Google will be sharing advertising revenue - traffic being tracked via watermarking - with all content providers via Top 100, and that is already a plus point in favor of Google.
On the other hand, as many international analysts will inevitably fall over themselves to fawn over and laud Google’s mp3 search service from a distance, it has to be recognized that it is far from being a cakewalk for Google. Their partner Top 100 still has to convince quite a few more labels and artists to join the service without which, users will consider this an incomplete service not worth switching over from Baidu.
Inertia and force of habit may also result in users remaining with the Baidu mp3 service. It has to be noted that there are other music search engines in China - all illegal - but none have been able to make a dent on Baidu’s lead and the manner of its offering. As one local blogger pointed out, even Google’s very naming of its service URL as www.google.cn/music might be slightly flawed as Chinese users have become conditioned to the synonymity of “mp3″ with music in the naming of the URL. Citing the example of the rival music search engine Sogou, which introduced its service as d.sogou.com it then had to beat a hasty retreat to the current mp3.sogou.com URL.
With the launch of this service, Top100.cn’s existing paid DRM enabled download service will cease and will be replaced by the service described here. It has to be noted that Top100’s service has been mainly limited to low common denominator fare and the Google MP3 Search service will likely propagate more of the same in direct competition with Baidu. Already, the Google chart service seems to be under the tyranny of major label fodder, and for the many other artists and independent labels who may possibly be simply making up the numbers by languishing in the basement of this service, it is certainly in their interests to explore other options and models.
Where this will probably be a game-changer is that the authorities and Content Providers can now point to a viable alternative to Baidu’s mp3 search and snap out of their varying degrees of apathy and do something about it. Baidu’s recalcitrant attitude and financial abuse of so-called label partners as it pirates music in broad daylight will inevitably catch up with them now, and their efforts to finally reconcile with content owners will probably be too late.
Still, there is all to do as both Top100.cn and Google have not had any prior success in music distribution but by intent, a warning shot has been fired at Baidu.