Not Free At Last

Several Chinese Internet music services started charging for downloads June 5, a policy announced earlier this year and one the industry is watching closely.

It’s unclear whether Chinese consumers are willing to pay for something they’ve long gotten for free – legally and illegally.

Kougou Music now allows users to download 150 songs per month at high sound quality for 5 yuan (81 cents). The service still allows free downloads of lower-quality tracks. allows for 100 high-quality downloads per month, though the president of the company has told local media that his main goal is to steer users toward streaming when the service is offered in the future. The company no longer offers free downloads for its mobile app users.

In general, these music services are trying to follow the lead of e-book and video services, which have seen some success with paid downloads, but those services also offer some free components to keep subscribers interested.

The question for exclusive music websites is whether users will flock to secondary websites, where the quality of the downloads is worse but the songs are free.

As one Xinhua news service reporter commented, a substantial issue for the industry is how to share whatever profits come in. Musicians haven’t come out in favor of paid downloads because they don’t think they’ll see any money anyway – record companies tend to keep everything. The record companies themselves don’t seem to trust the Internet services to report their earnings honestly.