Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tower Records Demise, Digital Downloads Rise

Tower Records - once an icon for music CDs - filed for bankruptcy last month. Its assets are being auctioned off for US$90-95 million. Everyone has yakked on about how the company couldn't keep up with the rapid changes - especially that brought on by digital music.

It's not for lack of trying. In 2006, they announced ad-supported podcasts through TowerPod.com. It seems they just couldn't move fast or nimbly enough - a common problem of companies built in the 80s and 90s.

Music Stores Expand in Singapore
At home, music CD shops are expanding. The New Paper reported this month that Gramophone is betting that the market will consolidate and shrink to 30% of its current size. The company intends to be the last few standing. Interesting philosophy... let's be big fish in a small pond.

Singapore? No Critical Mass (lah)
Locally, the industry is moving quite slowly in the realm of digital music downloads. So far, only Soundbuzz has stood the test of time and it seems to be paying off (finally). Others in the industry oft cite "lack of critical mass" as a reason not to get their feet wet in digital music.

Small Changes Point to Big Picture
I think it might happen much faster than people think. 7 years ago, I joined an internet company for one pure and simple reason - broadband internet access. You bet everyone in the company downloaded music. (Yes, we got wrapped on the knuckles for it).

Today, even the most "techno agnostic" of my friends download music from the web. I've stopped - mainly because it's too mainstream for me (I'm busy making mashups now).

Four Pints Make a Jug
Are local companies missing the point entirely? If they won't serve digital music downloads, customers can hear their heart out on international sites. There is a 12-second delay when connecting to these sites, but I have a feeling most people are keeping themselves occupied on IM and friendster while downloading. Since iTunes is not offered in Asia, P2P sites like LimeWire are popular here.

Sin Turns to Cents
My Gen Y friends have no qualms about downloading (legal/illegal) music off the net. The music industry is listening. Many are offering legitimate downloads. Universal is opting for ad-supported music downloads. MySpace is offering music by independent labels. The race for a revenue model has begun (belatedly).

Invisible Music, Visible Players
Despite that, there are no serious digital music offerings in Singapore outside of Soundbuzz. (Sidenote: The site isn't compatible with FireFox!) There are official reports that mobile phones double up as music players. And the purchase of portable players in on the rise. But really, empirical evidence is far more interesting. Been to Sim Lim or Comex lately? It really makes you wonder what content goes into those devices...

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