India has one of the most fascinating cultures of all the ancient civilisations. To celebrate country’s most treasured harmonies, iMusti has brought together India’s sounds into one social hub where those interested to listen, sing and study the lyricism can enjoy and share this musical joy with others. It allows users to access online collections of music, videos and books in all countries. Members can browse or search the entire catalogue and choose to listen to their favourite item. Apart from streaming, users can also download songs/videos/books for a set cost or purchase the entire album (CD or DVD).
The California-based startup began with an invitation from a group of music enthusiasts to make available quality entertainment to everyone. Samir D Khandwala, Founder and CEO iMusti.com said, “As we travelled across the globe, we found that along with the highly coveted music that has been for years tied up in dusty records and cassette tapes, there were also books written by ancient philosophers, poets and romantics lying dormant in corners of small boutique shops in the heart of cities like Calcutta and Bangalore. It was then that we realised the need to reshape our entire platform to include the famous and highly sought-after literary masterpieces by Indian authors and their finest regional collections.” The platform allows users to access Indian/regional content not generally available on digital or online stores.
How does the model work?
iMusti.com streams and sells licensed Indian music from various genres including Bollywood, Hindustani classical, regional (e.g. Bengali, Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu), devotional, yoga and meditation, etc. using various media. It is available on all Android- and iOS-based devices and also available on Samsung Smart TV. Additionally, the platform offers iMusti Radio which allows the users to listen to music and customise it as per their needs.
The audio streaming service is subscription-based and audio download is pay-per-stream. The video streaming service is pay-per-view-based and the eBooks can be purchased just like you purchase a physical book from a store. iMusti products are also available on Amazon.
The audio subscription cost is US$2.99 per month, download prices vary from US$0.49 to US$2.99 or even higher for some tracks. Video charges vary from US$1.99 to US$9.99 based on title popularity and availability. The eBook prices also vary, based on physical book price.
“We have had a very good response in North America but Indian market is heating up. People are accessing all kinds of content on digital devices including their phones, tablets and even home entertainment devices (television). The response is growing at a very high rate in all parts of the world. In addition, there has been a great response from book publishers and they are excited to convert their titles in digital format. iMusti also offers digital conversion to accelerate the process,” Khandwala said.
According to him, eBooks will reduce cost of publishing in the coming years. Publishers will have only one-time cost of conversion unlike physical book printing which requires minimum 1,000 to 2,000 copies that may not sell. This will reduce cost of doing business and increase profits.
It is working with content partners in India, the US and other parts of the world to acquire quality content for the subscribers. It has partnered with the leading labels such as Times Music, Shemaroo, etc. to provide unlimited and high quality content. For books, iMusti has collaborated with all the leading publishers such as Dhawale Prakashan, Popular Prakashan and Rajpal & Sons, Navjivan Trust, to provide huge collection of books (physical and eBook) in all key Indian languages.
Emerging digital entertainment platforms in India
There are others players in the digital entertainment category such as Hungama.com that has over two and a half million pieces of content across genres and languages, in the form of music tracks, movies, music videos and dialogues, and also mobile content such as ringtones and wallpapers. Saavn is a music service platform offering music in several languages. It also has a radio feature to customise songs as per the mood. Gaana.com also provides music across several platforms.
However, Khandwala feels that iMusti focusses on a wide range of content, so its diversification is a lot more than audio-only apps. “Even within audio space, we have a wide range of content outside Bollywood. Our USP is that we offer wide range of content on all technology platforms. We will continue to invest in technology so our customers can benefit, although we respect our licensors’ efforts to offer similar services,” he said.
“We focus a lot on underlying data of each content piece so users can get lot of information about content. For example, we provide book description in regional language, which no other company has done so far. In our audio application, we provide a feature in our radio where customers can select songs in a specific category. For example, Rabindra Sangeet in our Bengali collection or Lord Shiva songs in our devotional collection. All you have to do is to select a category and our system will continue to provide songs from a large database,” Khandwala added.
He believes that sourcing the right content for customer has been a key challenge. “One of the major hurdles is piracy. Another challenge in eBooks has been publishers’ willingness to enter the market and then convert their books in digital format. There are also some challenges related to some languages and accurately converting them without any grammatical error. However, there is enough expertise now available to overcome this,” he said.
Piracy has become very common and in the recent past, internet piracy or file sharing of copyrighted material has gained much popularity. It is a topic that has sparked debate and has received global attention. The economic cost to content owners of digital piracy is not established, but many studies have estimated it to be substantial. It is difficult to obtain accurate statistics on counterfeiting because it is a clandestine activity.
“We believe there is a strong need to address piracy in today’s time. The genesis of piracy problem lies in the failure of legal markets to provide access to goods at prices that are affordable in terms of local incomes. High prices for media goods, low incomes, and cheap digital technologies are the main ingredients of global media piracy. High prices often result in many products simply being unaffordable for the vast majority of the population,” Khandwala stated.
According to him, consumer education is incredibly important. “We believe that the war against piracy can be won by consumer awareness, better product offerings, efficient distribution and high-quality original products and iMusti is closely working on all these factors to curb piracy,” he said.
Expansion plans of the hub
Khandwala strongly feels that growth will come with more content and expansion in all parts of the world. “Content volume will be multi-fold in the coming years in all categories. iMusti aims to be no.1 seller for Indian content on Amazon. Similarly, we will add additional channels in appropriate categories. We anticipate healthy growth in the coming years because iMusti will add a lot of new content in this year and beyond. We are planning to add five new languages books in Q1 ’14,” Khandwala concluded.