News & Cues: Flipkart’s Flyte just flipped out

Last week, Flipkart announced the end to Flyte, the company’s year old digital music service showing us all that there are still tons of challenges for digital music distribution systems in India.

Flyte is scheduled to close its services on June 17, 2013 – notice of which has been given via the Flipkart website which has also advised Flyte customers to use up their account balance by June 17, and download their mp3 purchases by August 15, 2013 after which they will no longer be made available.

This picture was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the Flickr photostream of Ludo
This picture was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the Flickr photostream of Ludo

Why did Flipkart decide to shut down Flyte?

The reason up on the company’s website simply states that Flyte is being shut down for business reasons. Stories in the media have stated that Flyte was unable to sustain itself as a lucrative business strategy for the company. Flyte was intended to be a platform for the distribution of digital music, similar to Apple’s iTunes. The music files were all Digital Rights Management Free (DRM Free) and thus carried no software restrictions on how the file could be accessed, shared or played. According to the company’s media statements, Flyte made catalogues of music easily and legally accessible to the public at affordable prices. Although Flyte did have a fairly successful run with a huge number of subscribers, the numbers were not enough to make the business a successful, self-sustainable one.

Any idea why there weren’t enough subscribers?

One reason mentioned by Flipkart’s representatives in its official statements is that a legal digital music distribution platform cannot work in a scenario where music piracy and micro-payment issues remain unresolved. On their site too, Flyte has made its position clear on anti-piracy by stating that music downloaded from Flyte, is qualitatively better and responsibly sourced, when compared to its pirated counterparts.

So its piracy then – that’s the problem?

Piracy might be one of the reasons for a failed digital music distribution experience, but instead of focussing on how to curb piracy, it might serve us better to actually think about why so many people prefer to pirate music, rather than resort to a legally acceptable alternative.

It is possible that existing distribution models do not offer a wide range of music products – a particular distribution model may only provide its subscribers access to a limited number of song catalogues. Payment mechanisms and pricing mechanisms of digital distribution platforms may not always be convenient – some people might find the products being priced too high while others interested in paying, face difficulties in actually making payments owing to poorly constructed digital payment infrastructure.

Finally, fewer number of people really see much point in legal downloads since there is little to persuade us into thinking that the money spent on buying music, actually finds its way back to the artists themselves. Problems of poor digital infrastructure, limited product resources and a lack of transparency in the music industry are what lead to piracy, and perhaps a digital distribution platform needs to focus on remedying these issues before actually hoping to score a profit in today’s industry.

There is more information about Flyte on their website, but in case you have something to say about digital music distribution or piracy or anything else you think relevant to this post, then go ahead and leave a comment to start a discussion on something I would love to hear your views on.

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4 Comments

  1. Too many reasons why pirating music can’t be stopped:
    (a) iTunes and the like will never hold a candle to how meticulously music is tagged and organised on some of the top torrent trackers (waffles, what.cd, rutracker) – could be partly because music is pirated on torrent trackers by guys who are absolutely fanatical about music and don’t do it for profit-maximization;
    (b) availability of varying bit rates on torrent trackers which is extremely convenient;
    (c) no DRM non-sense; and
    (d) torrent trackers have a culture of closely-knit communities of devout music-nerds discussing and sharing music rather than ‘casual’ music listeners (like the majority at a last.fm for e.g.) which is a huge help in diversifying your musical tastes.

    Other than this, my sense is that there is a truly enormous student community which is too dependent on music but does not have the wherewithal to buy it. When I was sitting on a stash of 600 gb of music in college without having had the means to pay for even a tenth of it, I felt great – like a junkie who ran a pharmacy of his own 🙂

    Now that I earn, I’d love to (and I do) support the artists who I respect by attending their shows/buying tickets to their gigs, but paying Apple/Sony Music/CBS Records and other middlemen? No way!

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    1. Thanks for the comment Hemant. I think it’s interesting that you mentioned how these services seem unaffordable – although it does make me wonder if students would resort to paying for music, even if it was for drop dead prices, as long as they knew they had a free alternative. This goes back to a very interesting point a lawyer friend of mine, Abhiroop made, about how perhaps digital distribution platforms need to target niche markets because then, niche artists and their tighter target audience would gladly resort to paid downloads since the chances of finding it in mainstream media (and for free downloads) would be hard or impossible. Another thing you mentioned – the middlemen- is a serious problem that the music industry needs to understand. It’s a tricky thing, making a business out of something that appeals to people on a creative-emotional level, and so when a business like that lacks transparency and makes us doubt that the artists themselves, aren’t benefitting from the sales and downloads, it almost makes us feel let down and repulsed by the system. I think then, that the digital distribution business needs to embrace transparency, or it’ll always be stuck in this weird spot between having to market niche artists and not go mainstream, or market mainstream works with the ever present (and mostly overpowering) threat of qualitatively superior (or equal)music files being available for free.

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  2. @Manojna- Indians are associated with forever looking for a cheap bargain. We’re all testament to that ‘weakness.’ I love music, and there was a point in time when I did buy cassettes and cds, and my music collection was in tangible form. Now, life has become far too convenient with access to music just a ‘free download’ away. I still buy albums now and then, but I have also laid my hands on ‘free downloads.’ Will India ever reach a point where it only ‘buys’ music, especially when there is a free alternative available? Unless that ‘free alternative’ becomes non- existent (which is highly unlikely), or if laws were put in place which actually enabled the legal system to track down every single person violating piracy laws (With India’s fantastic lack of infrastructure, frustratingly slow pace of legal recourse and its massive population, the latter is unlikely, which is why we will never be able to buy subsidised iphones) or overwhelming moral principles that encourage you to be honest in your dealings, only then can DRM actually function successfully here. It is also important to look at why ‘free alternatives’ will always be around. I am reminded of Richard Stallman, a supporter of the use of free software, who has, since 1983 been campaigning that the freedom to compute is a political, ethical and moral choice that everyone needs to make, keeping in mind that it affects the community. His foundation ‘the Free Software Foundation’ actually provides a repository of free applications in many fields, including music. They have details of online music stores that provide ‘Internet music without the guilt.’ Interestingly, their website currently states ‘Stop DRM.’ However, what you mentioned about Digital Distribution platforms targeting niche artists makes so much sense. We have so many local musicians; supporting them by buying their cds and attending their shows, all the while knowing that your money is actually reaching them makes those of us who care where it goes, happy (for lack of a better word). I think that is where the start should be made; DRM needs to focus on these markets if they ever want to be successful in India. With regard to the existence of middlemen, I don’t quite understand why we should have a problem with them. The artists who sell their music on itunes, actually encourage you you to buy it on itunes. I assumed itunes pays them a percentage from sales. I’d love to gain more insight and clarity about how it all works. Maybe in one of your many upcoming articles, we could get to read a bit about it. Btw, your blog is such impressive work! I’m a huge fan. 🙂

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  3. Thank you for your thoughts on this Kekhroneo – I have to agree with you on your argument about Indians loving a good bargain. This is true of most people who have to contend with choosing between paying something around two dollars for a song (roughly Rs.114) as opposed to well, nothing. Regulating piracy is quite a toughie in India, for all the reasons you mentioned so I’m not sure if waiting for piracy to end will really be a viable strategy for some digital distribution platforms. It looks to me that Abhiroop’s suggestion – one of targeting niche artists, is the way to go. Although, I’m still not sure how this might help digital distribution platforms with mainstream music – and who’s to say that once released into the market, a niche product won’t find itself in the hands of someone willing to pirate it, in the hope of making it even more accessible. As for your question on middlemen and distribution platforms – although you are right in artists receiving some kind of royalty on every download, there are tons of other factors and costs that actually greatly limit the amount of money reaching the artists. I think I’ll take your advice, and get a post out on this soon, so thank you for the suggestion. Last of all, thank you for your kind words and support 🙂

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