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Google offers free music to China

August 6, 2008 |  5:50 pm

In China, Baidu is the powerhouse, the "it" girl, the search engine to beat. It's a treasure trove of music, most of it illegal. But Google may have found a way to increase its market share there -- offering free music legally.

The U.S. search giant launched a beta version of a Chinese music service called Music Onebox, which is available only in China at

"We are launching Music Onebox to give users an easy and legal way to find the music they're looking for, and to give music labels and publishers a new channel to distribute, promote and make money off of their valuable music content," said a Google spokesperson.

The way it works: When visitors to Google's home page search for artists or bands, they are directed to, a music site, to download or stream music. The site has financial backing from basketball wonder Yao Ming. Yes, the very tall one.

Google said it would not share in the money made off of ads on the music service. Instead, the ad money would be split between and the music labels and publishers.

The new service is a direct challenge to Baidu, at a time when Baidu is under increasing pressure to pay up for facilitating music piracy, says ArsTechnica. At the moment, the selection on top100 is limited, says Music 2.0.   

Google's Music Onebox is the YouTube model all over again, said Brian Zisk, executive producer of the SanFran MusicTech Summit and technologies director of the Future of Music Coalition: Make itself the center of media and then try to figure out how to monetize it. Except in this case, Google is using the lure of free music to draw people to Google.

"They are establishing their presence there," Zisk said. "One way or another, they can turn it into money."

If Music Onebox works in China, why not here?

In the U.S., such a service is unthinkable right now because the U.S. market still pays some of the music industry's bills. But in China, not so. The music industry is willing to gamble there because it says to itself, " 'Well, we're not making money in China anyway,' " Zisk said. 

-- Michelle Quinn

Image of the Chinese music site