The blacked-out world of music

Here in Israel I can’t get Pandora. I can’t get Spotify. I can’t get iTunes.

I’m learning about the blacked out world of music where millions, if not billions, of people are not able to buy music because it simply is not available.

What does this cause?

Well, here in Kinneret, Israel, I’m sitting with Ayelet Yagil, who runs the music section of ynet.co.il the news site most popular in Israel with about a million daily readers.

“I want to give my $.99 to the music company but I can’t. There is no legal way for me to get new music. So I go to Soulseek [a file sharing site] and take the song.”

Attempts to do an Israeli version with only Israeli songs failed. “That always fell through because of differences between the record companies,” Yagil says.

The interesting thing is the music industry HAS figured out how to work with mobile carriers in the Middle East and downloading of music onto your mobile phone is huge, but the music labels, Yagil says, can’t get along long enough to figure out a business model to open up to the Web.

So, we all remain in the dark and the music industry leaves hundreds of millions of dollars on the table and forces those in the blacked-out-world of music to steal.

That’s criminal.

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

57 thoughts on “The blacked-out world of music

  1. There is a composer/musician from Israel that is on Last.fm, so I know that site isn't blocked 100%. And I know from a friend in Argentina that they don't restrict downloads (if the artist has enabled it). They only restrict streaming.

    My suggestion for anyone that is in a country where they can't buy music, is to discover the world of free music they never knew existed before.

    Get a last.fm account and start scrobbling what you have and like. Then hit that recommended free downloads feed they give everyone. It's customized according to your tastes and is full of some really great stuff from a lot of unknown, independent artists dying to be heard.

    I don't listen to much mainstream music any more. I have been introduced to a lot better through that feed.

  2. I use HideMyNet's paid VPN service ($5/month) and get access to all of pandora, hulu and others in India (and wherever I go)… It works great!

  3. I didn't realize it was like that in the holy land! Someone is really missing at opportunity. Apple? At least you'll be able to NOT buy music legally on your iPads.

  4. This country you're talking about has the 2nd number of NASDAQ listed companies after the US. Also, check your facts- Theocracy?

  5. As a Canadian who uses a Sony eReader, I am constantly faced with books that I wish to buy, but the Library software that Sony maintains often does not buy the ePublishing rights needed from Canadian publishers, hence I get to see the books I Could be reading, if I was purchasing the books in the United states, but since I am in Canada, my eReader goes lacking. Such a downfall for a great product.

  6. You can either ask a friend or use some of the sites that sell them. You over pay by few 5%-10% over the list price of the card.

    In case it's not clear, those are virtual gifts card – no need to wait until they arrive by snail – mail or anything.

  7. Israel has a lot more Nokia phones as Nokia is not big in the US. But Nokia has smartphones, like the E72 (and older E71/63) which are similar to Blackberry that aren't available in the US. Israeli cell penetration is also at 125% — meaning lots of Israelis have more than one cell phone. Plus, Israelis got cell phones in the 1990s — long before they were mainstream in the US. Partly because of the telephone monopoly here (since broken).

    Unfortunately some industry and economic disparities of the 'old Israel' kept the iPhone out for way too long and I'm still waiting for the Nexus One.

  8. Stuart, I don't know about you but I find CD prices to be beyond belief here in Joburg. I'd rather download but as you say no iTunes Music/Movies Store, Audible, Pandora… we have no choice but to “look at 3rd party solutions”

  9. Mobiles are also huge in Africa. But access is costly, however few people have access to a comp; and telelcoms infrastructure is fragmentary at best so…

    BTW, I also lived in Israel for 7 years and found net access to be stars above where it is now in Johannesburg.

  10. “Have you used BlogolB? Its an attempt to develop a searchable and categorized directory of the thousands of WordPress Blogs out there.”..

  11. US address – just made one up.
    US credit card – that's not mandatory, but then you will need to use gifts card to buy anything. Not that convenient, but works…

  12. The issue is political. We need a Global Culture Tax. About $5/month per person would sponsor millions of artists. Redistribute the tax directly to content creators proportionally with the popularity and user ratings. At the same time, legalize piracy.

  13. iPod/iPhone apps suffer the same fate. No Pandora, so I cope with Last.fm (seemingly no paid subscription needed). Even most of the AOL Radio is blocked in my region, so I take my chances over in the Shoutcast directory. There are workable alternatives, but why must we seek them out due to regional agreements in this global economy.

  14. Canada has a mild case of this–I call it “the Digital Ghetto”. No Amazon MP3s up here, for example, and it often takes months or years for digital distribution channels like iTunes to become available in Canada.

  15. As fans we need to look to the artists to insist not for the money but for democracized music that anyone anywhere in the world regardless of device or OS be able to have access to their art.

    Bono can rant about so-called piracy but what is he doing to help rectify this?

  16. Israel is blocked out of Kindle books, parts of Audible, stuff on Amazon, parts of Apple's App store, and for AGES PayPal couldn't transfer funds to Israeli accounts – which left eBay and TONS of other sites out of reach for many Israelis.

  17. I’m so glad you brought this up. I’ve been a huge fan of pandora for a few years now, but when i moved to India in 2008, I was really thrown off by this policy. Its not the unavailabilty of the music that bothers me (I resort to bittorrent and grooveshark to get it), but its the fact that i can’t participate in this social aspect of sharing recommendations. I keep struggling to find good music and this pandora-facebook thing would have been perfect because i know my friends who share my preferences.

    In retrospect, this sucks even more because even if i find an alternative way of sharing recommendations that works in India, most of my friends (who live in the US) would not care to switch from pandora.

  18. I've been in 70 countries over the last 3 years. This is par for the course. No Hulu either.

    They might as well put a link to Pirate Bay on their restriction notice because that is fundamentally what they are doing.

    Props should be given to South Park Studios who make every episode of South Park available from almost every country in the world.

  19. Actually you do have iTunes if you have a US account – Apple don't do the check based on your current/real locations, but only based on the account details you entered when registering.

  20. Robert – thanks for reminding us all of the world outside of the Valley, Seattle, London etc. I'm as guilty as anyone of assuming things just work all over the world but the last 2 years in my latest role at microsoft have shown me never to assume. lets not even get started on Africa!

    when the rest of the world really gets on the web it promises to be a much more colourful place and open doors we never new existed.

    Steve

  21. Indeed, music is information, and information by its very nature will route its way around blackouts. I agree with your implication — when someone who has been denied any payment option “pirates” a song, who is really the criminal?

  22. Well, as far as I know (and I’ve been involved in this issue quite a bit, talking to different people from this industry), things are a bit more complex than that.

    The problem is with international publishing deals between US labels and the local (in this case, Israeli) publishers. Due to the way the business is structured, the local labels (Hed-Arzi, etc.) must get a piece of the pie with ANY kind of local music sale, be it physical (CDs) or online. This is due to the old-school nature of music publishing contracts that were traditionally per-country.

    In the old days, Hed-Atzi and these kinds of companies got local distribution deals for music coming from Warner Music Group or someone like that, and they’d be responsible for distributing and selling that music in their own local market. Nowadays, you still need their permission to sell that music in the local market, just because these old contracts still apply.

    WMG can’t just go and sell its music in Israel — they must go through their local distributor in Israel. Same goes for all the others.

    That’s why it’s so complex. That’s why it takes ages for Apple and others to bring in new additional markets. That’s why their catalogs aren’t identical between countries. That’s why smaller countries with smaller potentials are not seeing these kinds of services — it’s just too much work to set up for such a small potential (per country).

    1. Sounds like a huge opportunity for international clearing house, where a user can buy music on e.g. iTunes US and the transaction will be sent to a clearing house (one or more) then the proper amount of money will be transferred to the rights owner in the appropriate country.
      it is not a simple challenge both financially and technically but i think it’s doable- just as such arrangements are done between cellular providers as an example.

    2. Sounds like a huge opportunity for international clearing house, where a user can buy music on e.g. iTunes US and the transaction will be sent to a clearing house (one or more) then the proper amount of money will be transferred to the rights owner in the appropriate country.
      it is not a simple challenge both financially and technically but i think it’s doable- just as such arrangements are done between cellular providers as an example.

    3. Sounds like a huge opportunity for international clearing house, where a user can buy music on e.g. iTunes US and the transaction will be sent to a clearing house (one or more) then the proper amount of money will be transferred to the rights owner in the appropriate country.
      it is not a simple challenge both financially and technically but i think it’s doable- just as such arrangements are done between cellular providers as an example.

    4. Sounds like a huge opportunity for international clearing house, where a user can buy music on e.g. iTunes US and the transaction will be sent to a clearing house (one or more) then the proper amount of money will be transferred to the rights owner in the appropriate country.
      it is not a simple challenge both financially and technically but i think it’s doable- just as such arrangements are done between cellular providers as an example.

    5. Sounds like a huge opportunity for international clearing house, where a user can buy music on e.g. iTunes US and the transaction will be sent to a clearing house (one or more) then the proper amount of money will be transferred to the rights owner in the appropriate country.
      it is not a simple challenge both financially and technically but i think it’s doable- just as such arrangements are done between cellular providers as an example.

    6. Sounds like a huge opportunity for international clearing house, where a user can buy music on e.g. iTunes US and the transaction will be sent to a clearing house (one or more) then the proper amount of money will be transferred to the rights owner in the appropriate country.
      it is not a simple challenge both financially and technically but i think it’s doable- just as such arrangements are done between cellular providers as an example.

    7. Sounds like a huge opportunity for international clearing house, where a user can buy music on e.g. iTunes US and the transaction will be sent to a clearing house (one or more) then the proper amount of money will be transferred to the rights owner in the appropriate country.
      it is not a simple challenge both financially and technically but i think it’s doable- just as such arrangements are done between cellular providers as an example.

    8. Sounds like a huge opportunity for international clearing house, where a user can buy music on e.g. iTunes US and the transaction will be sent to a clearing house (one or more) then the proper amount of money will be transferred to the rights owner in the appropriate country.
      it is not a simple challenge both financially and technically but i think it’s doable- just as such arrangements are done between cellular providers as an example.

  23. I am in Israel
    1. While Pandora and spotify indeed don’t work here. Grooveshark, Deezer and a few others do work
    2. Sites to buy Israeli music do exist (e.g. songs.co.il or imusic.co.il etc.) and songs there do cost around 0.99$
    So saying “israelis are forced to steal music” sure sounds ike a nice headline but it just plain wrong

  24. It's a pain – I have a friend in a similar situation in England, of all places (IIRC she can't download from the US iTunes store, because she's using an Internet connection in the UK – but can't buy from the UK one, because her credit card and billing address are US ones since she's on a US air base.)

    The weirdest geographical barrier I've seen recently is probably Google's, though, blocking access to *information* about Android on T-Mobile from non-US IP addresses – why?! Not being able to sign up for an actual contract, fair enough, but why can't I at least see the prices they charge in the US? The dimmest – probably the Times (UK) barring me from viewing their website from timezones other than GMT/BST, as indicated by my browser request headers.

    These barriers always irritate me as a matter of principle, even when I can easily circumvent them by tunneling traffic. With electronic services, borders simply shouldn't exist. Where I am physically shouldn't affect the services I can access, whether due to censorship at my end or restrictions imposed by the other end.

  25. Welcome to the rest of the planet! In South Africa the following are not available or blocked: iTunes Music/Movies Store, Audible, Pandora – the list goes on and on … Granted, some are not here for valid reasons (Hulu and so on) but there should be no reason why iTunes and Audible shouldn't sell books, movies and music to people here. We are continually told that it is because the music labels/publishers can't “get their act together”.

    And then they wonder why piracy is rife.

  26. As an Israeli, I must say you are 100% right. Like many other Israelis, I am willing to pay for my music and TV shows, but no service is available that is willing to sell them to me over the Internet.

    I believe the same is true of many other countries around the world. The media business should spend more resources on reaching these enormous potential audiences, instead of focusing on piracy. Pirates are passionate consumers and fans, as well as true evangelists of media content (piracy networks can be thought of as distribution channels with social network features). This makes them a potential gold mine.

  27. Same here in Hungary. You might think living in a EU member country would make buying music online easier. Guess again.

    We still have an iron curtain, only it's now digital.

  28. Yup, I totally agree. Mobiles are huge here and, actually, they are huge back home too, only most of the geeks in San Francisco have iPhones, Blackberries, or Android phones. Here there are still a lot more old-style phones being used.

  29. Oh well, in Slovenia tons of Euros went to ashes after local mp3 stores closed down because legal fights. And no iTunes also. Innovation is killed by the lawyers. So much for open and unified EU market…

  30. Welcome to the Middle East. There are a lot of things I have learned as an expat here. It's not just music, the web in general is censored by many countries. For example in Saudi Arabia tinyurl is completely blocked. So links on Twitter can't be found. The other thing that was an eye opener was the Internet costs for speeds that North America had 10 years ago. For example you will pay approx. $80 a month for a 2MB internet line.
    Lastly, as you have noticed mobiles (cell phones) are huge here. Most people have 2 and many have 3. They are more important than their PCs. I heard an interesting statistic on BBC this morning. 45-50% of all mobiles sold world wide are sold in China. When you add India, the number goes to 60%. In North America, I recently saw a question on LinkedIn asking if any development on a mobile web site was needed. And it appeared most of the answers were from North America as well, as most said no.

  31. You can get Spotify.
    You can register using any UK proxy, then you can use the “travel access”. It's unlimited in Premium, 14 days in Free.
    I'm using this in Russia.

  32. This would be a good opportunity to experience a different culture, new artist, new genre’s. Enjoy Israel, it is a wonderful country. Playing American music in a foreign land, now that is criminal ;-)

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