Japan Streaming On Line

Japan finally has a music streaming service. Line, the messaging app that dominates the mobile communications market in Japan and several other Asian countries, launched its anticipated streaming service June 11. 

Japan, where CDs are still king, is the last holdout for streaming in the world. This is significant when considering that Japan, in terms of revenue, is the second-biggest recorded music market in the world. Line Music will be available for both iPhones and Android users. At present, the service offers 1.5 million songs, most of them in the Jpop field. Initial commentary is split between users who seem disappointed with the limited selection, particularly with regard to non-Japanese artists, and those who appreciate the streamlined, easy-to-use interface.

Line, which has 58 million subscribers, made its fortune in Japan by appealing to young people who tend to text a lot. The system is very easy to use, very secure, and, most importantly, fun in that it offers a wide variety of over-sized emoticons, the kind that Japanese teens love. Taylor Swift, who launched her latest world tour in Japan, is reportedly a big fan of Line and has contributed her own series of emoticons based on her visage.

In any case, Line Music has already said it will expand its library to 5 million tunes by the end of the year, and further to 30 million songs in 2016. For unlimited access to the library, subscribers pay 1,000 yen ($8) a month, though they can also opt for a more limited plan of 20 hours of music a month for half-price. Japanese domestic CDs are notoriously expensive and iTunes Japan charges almost twice as much per song as iTunes services in other territories. In addition, the service will be free for the first two months. Line’s achievement is formidable, as Spotify’s planned entrance into Japan has been delayed for more than two years owing to difficulties in getting Japanese record labels on board.

The labels’ main reservation was with Spotify’s free plan, but in any case rights issues are notoriously sticky in Japan. It helps that two of the biggest record companies in Japan, Avex and Sony Music Entertainment, have stakes in Line Music, which is actually owned by Naver, a South Korean company. However, Universal Music Group has said it will “take a stake” in the venture, according to Reuters.

What’s especially fortuitous about the announcement, as far as the Japanese media goes, is that Line went live on almost the same day that Apple announced its own streaming service, which will become available at the end of the month. Presumably, it will be available in Japan as well, since it is being promoted on the Apple Japan website. At the moment, however, there is no indication of the service’s cost for users. Still, magazine The Tech Portal is reporting that Apple Music will be a hard sell throughout Asia, where paying for streamed music has not caught on as fiercely as it has in the West.

Tech Portal doesn’t think the three-month free trial period will do much to change that. The main problem is competition from established but very local streaming services that are free, including Saavn and gaana.com in India. Then there’s internet goliaths Tencent and Baidu in China, from which users can still download music for free.

These services also offer unlimited playback options, which Apple doesn’t. Apple’s main advantage is its name, which has grown in reputation in Asia markedly in the last year. Tech Portal thinks people might subscribe simply because of the name and out of curiosity, especially if the subscription price is less than $10 a month, which is what it will cost in the U.S. Also, the fact that it will also be available to Android users will have a positive impact. At the moment, however, no date has been set for a launch in Asia.