One of the key weaknesses Google has seemed to face in growing market share in China has been the fact that many people turn to Baidu to download music. Now the company may be fixing this, reports the Wall Street Journal:
Two years after Google Inc. began a big push in China, Baidu.com Inc. continues to dominate the country’s Internet search market, thanks in significant part to a controversial and legally risky offering: searches for free, unlicensed music downloads.
Now, Google is preparing a counterstrike, according to people close to the situation. The U.S. search giant is in the late planning stages of a joint venture with a Chinese online music company that would permit it to provide free — licensed — music downloads in China.
The service, which is likely to offer access to tunes from three global music companies as well as dozens of smaller players, could start in the next several weeks barring any last-minute hiccups. The music pact marks a turning point in Google’s battle with Baidu to gain dominance in an Internet market that is soon expected to surpass the U.S. this year in number of users.
The report notes that 7 percent of Baidu’s traffic is from access to free music, but that Baidu has been a target of copyright actions because of this. Of course, just last month Baidu won a copyright case against it (Baidu Beats Music Labels In Music Copyright Case Again), so those copyright issues haven’t seemed to slow it down over the years. In contrast, Yahoo China in December lost a case (Yahoo China Loses Case On Linking To Unlicensed Music).
Google hasn’t been targeted in music cases, the Wall Street Journal says, since it hasn’t offered a music search feature. To avoid such actions, plans are said to involve files that are digitally watermarked. These files, from a variety of record labels, are already offered via Top100.cn. Google is said to be partnering with Top100.cn to provide enhanced search and other features.
For some background on the importance of music search to Baidu historically, the China Online Search Marketing Survey Report (PDF) in 2005 found that more people were searching at Google for web results, reference info, shopping, and business material than at Baidu. Baidu’s big search area was downloadable music. Similarly, a Keynote study in 2006 found that Google beat Baidu in many customer satisfaction areas, including general search quality, image search quality, and news search quality. But it was Baidu that ranked tops for music search quality.
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