Yamaha has just completed a major reorganization, moving its entire content division out of the parent company and into a subsidiary called Yamaha Music Media (YMM). Until now, YMM has focused mainly on publishing instructional books and magazines for pianists, guitarists and other musicians. Under the new structure, this print media will be combined with Yamaha's considerable mobile content assets, as well as its music software catalog.
On October 3 of last year, Napster Japan launched the first online music subscription service in Japan with an 'all-you-can-eat' model - allowing subscribers to download and play as much music as they like for a flat monthly fee. Accompanied by a massive marketing campaign featuring oversized bar-code poster ads, the Napster Japan launch attracted a great deal of attention and media coverage. When the company announced that over 2 million songs had been 'shifted' (downloaded for playing) in the first week after launch, it looked as though Napster might well be on track to replace iTunes as Japan's most popular online music service. So how have the first six months gone for Japan's first and (so far) only online subscription music service?
Ever since the first ringtone sites began appearing on NTT DoCoMo's i-mode menu back in 1999, most mobile music content providers in Japan have pushed to have their services appear on the 'main menu' of the wireless carriers. This 'closed garden' model has been widely criticized for putting too much power in the hands of the wireless carrier. However, it has still been attractive to CPs because of the enormous traffic that comes from the carrier's menu, as well as the convenience of having customer billing handled by the carrier.
For the past seven years, CPs have flooded Japan's three major wireless carriers with thick, 150-page proposals, in the hopes of getting their ringtone, mastertone, or other content listed on the menu. Despite the high barrier of entry and heavy restrictions, this method has until recently been the preferred way to operate a mobile music service in Japan.
Over the past few years, I've often been asked if file sharing - especially music file sharing - is as widespread in Japan as in the US and Europe. My answer has generally been something along the lines of 'it certainly exists here, but the number of people doing it is pretty small compared to most other countries.' In just the past year, though, we've seen a sharp increase in action taken by Japanese record industry and
copyright organizations to step up efforts against file sharing.
I suppose it's not so surprising that mobile file sharing has become a major concern here - after all, 90% of digital music downloads in Japan are to a mobile phone. Researching further, though, I was a bit taken aback at just how prevalent these free mobile sites are, especially compared to just one year ago, which was the last time I had looked into the issue.
For the last four years now, KDDI/au has been setting the pace in Japan for mobile music services, launching the first mastertone service in 2002 and the first full-song download service two years later. The company has recorded a total of over 38 billion mastertone downloads and 78 million full-song over-the-air downloads. They have also achieved impressive handset sales, with more than 22.8 million mastertone-capable and 10.4 million full-song-capable KDDI mobile phones sold in Japan.
At a recent press conference in Tokyo, the wireless operator raised the bar yet again - unveiling plans for its upcoming digital radio launch and introducing the latest incarnation of its LISMO! music service.
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