Baidu, China's leading search engine, gets 7 percent of its traffic on a service that eases access to free music downloads. Google, determined to catch up after two years in what is now the second largest Internet user base on earth, may follow suit.
The Wall Street Journal describes Google's possible plans thusly: "Vivendi SA's Universal Music and about 100 other foreign and domestic record labels have been working with Top100.cn, a Beijing-based Web site that currently sells licensed music downloads for 1 yuan (about 14 cents) each, and Google. Together, Top100.cn and Google would provide free MP3 downloads with value added services, people familiar with the plans say. The new search options, for example, promise to give users free access to a database of information about their favorite artists--from concert listings to links to special ring tones."
This stands in contrast to Baidu's service, which the Journal says has led to legal disputes with record labels because illegal downloads are accessible. You get no shortage of illegal download options when you run a Baidu music search for Björk mp3s. (Sidenote: Björk herself plays Shanghai March 3.)
It will definitely be striking if Google puts legal music online. Like DVDs, CDs here are almost always illegal copies and it would take some doing to find the legal ones in many cases. Perhaps they will share ad revenue from the search pages with the record companies. Something like the ad-supported free music we hear on the radio, but available anytime and as a high-quality file...
P.S.: The Journal article includes a useful outline of the Baidu-Google competition in China.