Like musicians in the rest of the world, the Chinese have been struggling from unauthorized downloading or, more recently, streaming. In order to monetize their online music services or digital music in general, Chinese digi-music entrepreneurs have tried out advertising, paid downloads, premium subscriptions, among others in the past several years. But we haven’t heard that any Chinese services are profitable with music alone (Some are profitable through other offerings such as gaming) or any musicians make a good living through digital offerings.
Some from music industry have concluded that few users would buy digital music the content. So a number of Chinese musicians or businesses have begun creating other virtual or physical goods for fans to purchase.
However, there are always idealists that want to build an infrastructure for digital music publishing, helping musicians make money from digital sales and hoping to kill distributors in between.
Xiami.com was one of the first in China. The founding team created an ideal model that allows everyone to upload digital tracks and charges for downloads. Revenues are shared among copyright holders, Xiaomi the platform operator, and users who upload or help promote tracks.
While Xiami has been a popular music site, for the streaming service is for free and the indie music content other sites didn’t have attracted a sizable loyal audience, the sales of downloads failed to cover costs on royalty.
Founded in 2007, the struggling Xiami would be acquired by Alibaba Group who is now paying royalties for the site, and joined other Chinese music sites in early 2013 to offer a premium subscription, whose major offering is higher-quality files.
Although one of its founding goals was to help musicians make income from digital sales, several Chinese independent musicians got angry with Xiami claiming they had received little money from the site. Song writer and singer Li Zhi was one of them that sued Xiami in 2010.
There are two products under Douban’s music channel, online radio Douban FM and Douban Musician. Since 2008, musicians have been able to set up pages under Douban Musician, uploading songs for users to listen to or download, list concert plans or other content. Music streaming or downloads are for free.
Now the Golden Fleece program plans to accept ads and share future revenue with musicians based on the number of plays. Douban promises musicians will receive the larger part of the total revenue. Currently they pay one yuan (US$0.16) per thousand plays.
Several independent musicians, including Mr. Li who once sued Xiami, have joined in. The program is now only open to independent musicians and will be available for labels or DJs sooner or later.
More services will be added to help musicians sell downloads, concert tickets or other physical goods, according to Douban. Douban users have been able to buy event tickets or other goods, with the platform taking click-based or transaction-based commissions.
Douban has already had a publishing service for writers. But different from the music program, the article/book publishing service isn’t based on advertising but content sales.