JOHOR BAHRU, Malaysia (Reuters) – A handwritten sign at the entrance to a
tiny shop in southern Malaysia’s busiest city sums up the music industry’s
colossal problems in Asia.
“1 CD for 7 ringgit,” it beams in bright blue ink. This sum is equivalent to
As two policemen direct traffic just yards away, the shop’s teenage manager
brags of even better bargains, running a hand along makeshift shelves lined with
hundreds of compilations — from pop princess Britney Spears to Taiwanese idol
It is just one of a dozen shops brazenly selling knockoff pop music CDs and
DVD bootlegs of Hollywood films in a single neighborhood in Johor Bahru, only a
few minutes’ drive from Singapore — and one of thousands scattered across Asia.
But as Washington presses Asia to curb the sophisticated piracy syndicates
equipped with CD-burning technologies and stacks of blank discs that supply the
shops, a bigger battle is brewing online against Web pirates in the fast-growing
The rollout of high-speed broadband Internet in India, China and Indonesia,
three of the world’s most populated countries, could expand the number of people
downloading free music off the Web by millions a month.
To fight back, labels are releasing more hits to fee-based online music
services in Asia, accelerating growth in an embryonic industry now dominated by
just two companies — Soundbuzz.Com and Sony Corp’s Planet MG.
“The digital music medium is coming of age in Asia,” said Sudhanshu
Sarronwala, 38-year-old chief of Singapore-based Soundbuzz and former managing
director of MTV Networks Asia.
Four-year-old Soundbuzz has licensing agreements with 65 record labels in the
region and operates in 12 Asian markets in eight languages — from Chinese and
Korean and Japanese to the Bahasa languages of Indonesia and Malaysia.
Its clients include Web portals run by Microsoft Corp’s MSN and Yahoo Inc.
“We build the storefront look and feel for the client,” said Sarronwala.
Asia was once prized by record labels including Time Warner Inc’s Warner
Music Group, EMI Group Plc, Universal Music and Bertelsmann unit BMG for its
potential for growth as U.S. and European markets mature.
Instead, recorded music sales in Asia are sliding faster than in the United
States and Europe, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry
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