Are pirated versions and free downloads from the Internet slowly pushing original CDs away?

When 25-year-old banker, music enthusiast, and a strong advocate against music piracy Babu recently strode into a well-known musical shop on Mount Road to buy an audio CD of a Tamil film released late last year, he was in for a surprise. Not only could he not find the CD he wanted, he was also told by the shop assistants that they could not promise him his favourite CD even if he placed a request for it.

“We will place an order for these CDs. But then, with the music industry being hit by piracy, most companies don’t take the risk of producing large numbers. If you are lucky, you may get a copy of the CD,” he was told.

The new scene

Babu is not alone. There are now scores like him who want to fight piracy and help the music industry by buying original CDs. But, they are left in the lurch as music companies do not produce large numbers of CDs and retail outlets do not retain the audio CDs of all the films through the year. So a considerable number of even those opposed to piracy is forced to download music from the Internet or opt for pirated versions.

Singer Unnikrishnan says, “It is a vicious cycle set in motion by piracy. Eighty per cent of the people here don’t want to pay and look to get their music free. Nobody’s buying, and as a result, music companies are looking to cut down on production.

Earlier, you had to buy a CD to listen to music. Now, you have around 15 radio channels that constantly keep airing songs. Add to that the Internet from where people download everything for free. Unless laws are more stringent, there is no way the issue of piracy can be resolved.

Tough measures — such as those taken against 1,010 individuals who had uploaded or downloaded the film Bachelor Party on the Internet — must be taken. Things have changed so much today that it is hard for music companies to survive.”

Priya Krishnan of Think Music agrees. “The problem lies in the fact that the quantity of CDs purchased six months into the launch of the product wafers down. A few years ago, we would produce large numbers. In fact, we would produce lakhs of CDs for a big star’s film. Now, the market has shrunk and it does not make sense for us to leave our products out there beyond six months,” she says.

Shift in priority

The priorities of music stores too seem to have changed and this has only added to the problem. The assistant manager of a big retail chain in the city says, “Our shop, like most others, believes that the future lies in the Internet. Therefore, we have slashed our procurement orders for CDs. We believe that two years from now, customers will not buy CDs at all.

The sad part is that in our eagerness to gear up for the future, we have failed to take into account the scores of customers who still do not have access to the Internet or a computer and who still believe in buying CDs. We retain only the CDs of films released recently; CDs of evergreen hits or classics too are retained. Last year, my store’s audio segment did a business of Rs. 16 lakh. This year, we have done a business of just Rs. 6 lakh.”

So, is there a solution at all?

There seems to be, at least to a part of the problem, if one is to go by what Priya says. “We have resolved this issue by setting up an e-store. Other music companies can also set up e-stores, which is the easiest thing to do.

As far as Think Music is concerned, music lovers who cannot find CDs produced by our concern in stores can always visit and place an order for either a CD or download the music of their choice,” she says.