Japan may be the world’s second largest music market, worth $2.6 billion in 2014, compared to America’s $4.8 billion. And it may be seen as one of the most innovative, tech savvy countries on the globe. Yet, Japan is only now having its modern music breakthrough, after years of lagging behind.
Earlier this month the country’s mobile social media giant LINE launched its new music streaming service, according to the Japan Times, arriving a crucial two weeks before Apple is set to unveil its own streaming service across the globe.
Japan’s music market may be massive, but it has also lumbered behind more plugged-in nations that have enjoyed streaming services like Spotify (which, if rumors have it, is on its way to Japan at some point) for years. In fact, Japan is still stuck in the generations-old CD era: those dated discs still dominate about 80 percent of the market, due to cumbersome licensing hurdles.
LINE, on the other hand, promises to be a forward thinking alternative, thanks to its promise of access to a current library of 1.5 million songs for ¥1,000 (US$8) a month. Those tracks include hits by foreign acts like Taylor Swift, Michael Jackson, and a host of other major label artists, along with Japanese stars like Ayumi Hamasaki—although the nation’s hottest girl group, AKB 48, is mysteriously absent. But the company has pledged to address such shortcomings: it plans to expand its roster to 5 million songs by year’s end, and hopes to reach 30 million tunes in 2016.
Another major advantage of LINE’s streaming service will be its integration with the company’s mobile messaging platform, which is already wildly popular thanks to its photo and video posting options, along with its ability to send free text messages and place phone calls.
Time will only tell if LINE can really go toe to toe with Apple, which shook up the music market in every other country but Japan with the iPod a decade ago. Regardless of what happens, the end of the CD’s reign can’t come soon enough for many music buffs and technology watchers. As Alice Enders, who studies Japanese media for UK firm Enders Analysis, who told the New York Times: “Any new service launch in Japan is good news.”