U.S. distrib teams for Sino musicstore

In the latest effort to undermine the market for pirated music downloads in China, an indie U.S. distributor has linked up with a Chinese partner to offer more than 1 million songs for 3¢ each online.

San Francisco-based Independent Online Distribution Alliance has pacted with ringtone distributor R2G to form the Wawawa Music Store site, China’s largest digital musicstore, which will allow customers to download up to 88 MP3s for 20 yuan a month, just shy of $3.

Ioda is a digital clearinghouse for artists who haven’t signed with the major labels. Among recordings on offer are tracks by Bob Marley & the Wailers, David Byrne, Thurston Moore and the San Francisco Symphony.

The relatively low cost of the downloads is aimed at encouraging Chinese customers — 85% of whom listen to music online — to pay for legitimate music in a country where song files from top artists are available free on sites like Baidu.com.

Move marks the first time a foreign independent has had a legal way into China’s growing download market.

The service is created exclusively for mainland Chinese consumers, and all the songs are delivered in DRM-free MP3 format via a monthly subscription plan; all downloads are permanently owned by the customer — even beyond their subscription period.

The service is also aimed at the 40% of Chinese webizens who use Internet cafes to download music, as the service allows subscribers to stream from any location.

“Despite the undeniable potential of the Chinese market, it remains to be seen how the music industry can successfully capture the opportunity,” said IODA founder and CEO Kevin Arnold. “Wawawa opens this huge new market to the independent sector for the first time with an offering that we believe is the right combination of convenience, price and content selection for the increasingly adventurous Chinese music fan.”

(Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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