Category Archives: Digital Business

FDI in E-commerce: The welcome decision that wasn’t

As soon as the Finance Minister said something about e-commerce in his maiden Budget speech, the social media was abuzz with discussion about FDI in e-commerce being allowed. In Twitter, the tone was celebratory, with many complimenting the FM and PM Narendra Modi for this revolutionary decision. Some even started discussing what it means.

What added to the confusion is that PwC actually issued a statement welcoming the decision to allow FDI in e-commerce. And that was quoted by many in Twitter.

Even some media brands started tweeting the same. The Economic Times, India’s largest business newspaper was one of them.

In fact, ET actually did a story quoting PwC. All these were unfounded and just shows not just how social media behaves but how the respected media brands, in order to be the first with the story, compromise severely on fact-checking. Now, this is what the FM said.

FDI in the manufacturing sector is today on the automatic route. The manufacturing units will be allowed to sell its products through retail including E-commerce platforms without any additional approval.

It is very clear. Isn’t it? “The manufacturing units” will be allowed to sell “their” (ignore FM’s speechwriter’s grammar for a while) products through retail including e-commerce platforms. I could not listen to the speech properly but cautioned against some premature celebration

So, for sure, there is no implications for either the Amazons or the Flipkarts.

Does it mean it is a useless statement with no implications for anyone practically? That seems to be the tone of the despaired tweeple after they realized this.

But  even that is a misinterpretation. The companies that will surely benefit from this will be those foreign companies that manufacture in India.

Dell, which used to sell directly online before the new regulations came into force (now it sells through a partner), can start selling again directly through online channel. So can Lenovo. And Nokia. And Samsung. And many more product companies that already manufacture in India.

Will some of them start selling directly? Let’s wait and see.

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Why CMOs Will NOT Spend More than CIOs on IT?

Ever since Gartner made that dramatic announcement in 2012 that by 2017, a CMO would spend more on IT than a CIO in a typical enterprise, there have been many media stories, analyses, and animated discussions in both CMO and CIO forum about whether, why and how it will happen.

But mostly, I have read the analyses in US business/tech media or some specialized publications in India on marketing or IT. I decided to write this when I read a front page story, CMOs may soon outpace CIOs in technology spending, in one of the best among Indian business media, when it comes to catching a serious trend, Mint. For last two years, it is the world of marketing that I have been operating. Before that, as the editor of Dataquest, CIOs and IT departments consisted of my world. So, nothing excites me more than an issue concerning both.

Though the headline seems like a complete rejection of the idea, I must clarify, however, that I am not at all dismissive of the trend—that marketing departments are increasingly putting a lot of thrust on technology. With online and social media becoming important channels of marketing, and technologies controlling those media changing every single day, there is not really any other option for smart marketers. With the IT departments of today not geared up to respond at the speed at which they expect them to do, they resort to DIY approach. That explains hiring of own “marketing technologists”, as the article points out, and an increase in IT spend.

The trend, in a broader sense, is not new. Ever since the on-demand model has come into play, any business manager can, without answering too much questions from the corporate finance department, try out any application. After all, she is only using her budgeted opex and using no IT capex that should involve the IT department. And when I say any business manager, I mean any business manager, not just those in marketing departments. In fact, in early days of Software as a Service (SaaaS), it is these functional managers, frustrated with what they described as extremely slow pace of the IT departments, started implementing many of the point solutions, using this new-found freedom (SaaS). In a story on SaaS that I did for Global Services magazine (which was being published from the US) in 2006, I focused completely on this aspect and got a fair bit of appreciation and criticism from bloggers, mostly from the US. Unfortunately, that article is not available online now. One popular blogger who wrote on procurement even labelled the article a last-ditch effort to save the soon-to-be-extinct species called corporate IT departments.

After eight years, the endangered species not just survives but thrives. And not because of my article!

Many of those SaaS applications that the functional managers had invested on are either extinct or are part of a bigger suite and are handled by the corporate IT department under CIO.

Why? Partly because, these functional departments were not silos and could not operate as independent units; they had to interact with the other functions and the enterprise systems for smooth information flow, at some point of time. That raised a lot of technical issues which the functional managers were not capable of handling. But more importantly, many of the smarter managers never really wanted to handle. They realized that it was not worth their time and energy to devote so much attention to applications and technologies—which were anyway getting standardized—at the cost of new business challenges and opportunities that needed their attention.

There is no reason to believe that it will be any different in case of marketing technologies. True, the IT departments, compared to marketing departments, are slower. But that will always be the case. As guardians of governance and compliance in the enterprise, they will always remain a bit slower than customer facing marketing departments.

But the problem is not exactly unreal. Marketing departments which have to execute really fast many a times, have to have some solution to their problem.

The organizations must tackle the issue head on. And that issue is not CIO vs CMO, as media loves it to portray. In fact, there are two issues.

1. Getting the right balance
2. Find out a model of co-ownership that works

The first is not really a CIO’s or a CMO’s responsibility. It is actually, the CEO’s or in some enterprises the COO’s, with a little help from the CFOs. The key question is: what speed is good enough? The CMO could want supersonic speed. But is the organization ready for that? Does it even need that? Is her demand fair? Is it even necessary to prepare IT department to match that speed? The CMO may be wedded to an idea or may want peer appreciation. But then, everything has a cost. And the cost is not just what she would pay to the vendor for an app or the cost of hiring a marketing technologist. The long term cost has to be calculated taking into account the cost of integration with the enterprise.  From the organization point of view, is it worth that cost, at that point of time? So, it has to find out where lies the balance.

The second follows  from the first. There is no one best model for all. Depending on business, size, geography and genesis, an organization has to decide what is good for it.

An organization may decide that compliance and governance are of utmost importance, at the cost of everything else. In that case, it makes sense to route everything through IT department, even though it takes a little longer. In that case, the challenge is to make the IT department as efficient and faster as possible.

Another organization may decide that speed is extremely important. In that case, it may find its own solution. The marketers may need to invest directly on technology and technology manpower, with or without the IT department acting as a consultant, or for creating a specific set of rules of procurement and implementation.

An organization may even decide that the marketing may be given complete freedom to invest on their own technology vetted by IT department and may had over the system to the latter once it stabilizes.

In short, the real solution is finding a model that takes into account why both these departments were created, what is the current situation, and what would be the best model to go forward, by making the CIO and CMO cooperate.

Most organizations are realizing that there is a need to have two sets of people in IT: the demand guys—who would sit with the business needs to decide what is possible using technology and what is needed—and the supply guys, who would ensure that IT services are delivered reliably and efficiently. In many traditional organizations, the IT department is optimized to perform the second role and the approach to first role is ad-hoc, often pulling someone from IT department who knows “that technology” along with an enthusiastic young chap in the functional department, who is seen as being “tech savvy”. It is in these organizations that are good breeding grounds for conflicts between business managers ad IT departments. Just that the horizontal marketing community is a little bigger and a lot more vocal than other business managers.

Going back to the much less important but far more hyped debate of who would spend more—CIO or CMO—you do not need too get into so much of analysis to get an answer. As much as 70% IT cost in an enterprise is on maintenance and upgradation. A lot of that is on IT infrastructure such as hardware and systems software. So, factually, even if one assumes that a lot of new investment decisions will be taken by someone else, that will still not affect the overall balance so much. In other words, CIO will still account for a large chunk of IT spending, even if the organization follows a model where functional units are given charge of their own technology establishment.

 

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FDI in Multi-brand Retail: E-Commerce Will not be the Same

Whether it is a desperate attempt to secure a place in history or a genuine attempt to break policy paralysis, the Cabinet has taken the bold decision to allow 51% FDI in multi-brand retail, albeit with a provision that state governments would decide if they would like to allow it in their states.

Though many see this as a compromise for somehow moving ahead, one feels it is a masterstroke.

Firstly, it suddenly takes away the legitimacy from the opposition to FDI in retail by CMs like Mamata Banerjee and Narendra Modi. An average citizen of Delhi or Mumbai, who wants global brands in his city, is bound to ask, who is she to come in the way of our access to the global retail outlets?

Secondly, if the implementation happens well, soon the citizens of states that have not allowed FDI will see the difference it makes, as they visit cities in other states with such outlets.  It will be difficult to resist the “middle class” pressure for the governments then. Imagine, for example, in the National Capital region, Gurgaon having all the big global retail brands, with Noida not having a single one of them!

Finally, if the government and the supporters of FDI in retail, play it well, it should be sold to citizens as a farmers-friendly rather than large business-friendly policy which it actually is. With the farmers and the middle class supporting it, it will only be the small traders who will be opposing it. While they are a powerful community in states like Gujarat, UP, and Tamil Nadu, states like Karnataka, Odisha, and Bihar will not find any strong reason to oppose FDI. Most of India’s potential locations, such as Delhi, Mumbai, Gurgaon, Pune, Hyderabad, and Jaipur will have the new brands. The large cities that will be left out will be Chennai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, and Kolkata.  Out of which, it will be interesting to see how things unfold in Bangalore, as the state has no logical reason to oppose it.

But the most interesting thing to watch will be e-commerce. Initially, the policy was vague about e-commerce. But in April this year, the government clarified that all the rules that are applicable to offline retail would be applicable to e-commerce as well. This clearly meant that all the plans of companies like Amazon had to be shelved. With the new policy change, they can enter in India. So, expect a new era altogether in e-commerce. Good luck, Flipkart!

But interesting will be to see how offline retail brands such as Wal-Mart or Tesco unfold their India strategy in this policy regime? Access to the top two cities and some of the other biggest markets will surely make India entry attractive. But once they enter and build their supply chain, especially the procurement network, there is nothing that is stopping them from selling online to the entire Indian population, irrespective of where the buyers are located. They will not violate any law as they will not have to open any “outlet” in those states.

Question is: will that happen? Will the politicians still not try to hound them? Or as many optimists hope, all this is meaningless discussion, as soon, most states will open up FDI in multi-brand retail.

In either case, a vibrant, more competitive retail market has implications for the e-commerce market.

The fun has just begun.

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Crackdown on Illegal Music Sites: The Solution is Not So Simple

In a well-coordinated move, the Indian Music Industry (IMI), a consortium of more than 100 music companies, recently managed to get an order from Calcutta High court directing ISPs in India to block 104 music sites on charges of piracy. Some of these sites such as songs.pk, musicindiaonline.com, dishant.com, and smashits.com are extremely popular destinations for music lovers. Medianama.com, one of the top websites focusing on business related to digital media and entertainment, said that the IMI had made a case against each website, quoting Apurv Nagpal, CEO of Saregama, one of India’s largest and oldest music company. Medianama further said that the court orders were obtained on different dates and the first order was against songs.pk.

The order against songs.pk was widely reported in media and we had even discussed it in our editorial meeting in Dataquest. But I came to know about the blocking of the other sites when, while searching for the lyricist of a 60s Hindi film song, in the third week of March, I clicked on a Google link and found the message that the site has been blocked because of orders from DoT. It is only when I did a couple of more queries that I saw a few write-ups (none in the traditional media) about the sites being blocked because of the orders from Calcutta High Court. Medianama even gave a list of all the sites. I found that many of the sites that I often visited to find/confirm info about songs (esp the year of a film/lyricist etc) are in the list. Most of them are music streaming sites.

According to IMI, these are illegal sites while there are a few sites such as raaga.com, gaana.com, in.com, and dhingana.com that have legally obtained licence to stream music. The average user of the sites, however, have no way of knowing which one is legal and which one is not. Most of the people I know who use these sites are heavy purchasers of legal music. When I asked a few of them, most of them said they choose these sites because of ease of navigation/look and feel. I agree with that but have one more parameter: accuracy of information about songs. This, because, there is little to choose when it comes to the quality of sound or speed between one site and another. The Saregama site scores heavily on the accuracy-of-information front while it is poor when it comes to presentation and does not work quite often. Flipkart’s Flyte—though much better in terms of presentation and navigation—has quite a few mistakes when it comes to information on songs—one common and frequent error being combining films of the same name (one released in 40s and another in 90s, for example) to a single album.

So, while feeling good about the success of the anti-piracy moves, I was a little sad that these sites—to which I often trurned for a quick check-up of info—would not be accessible any more. But as feared by many analysts and legal experts, they resurfaced under different names. Songs.pk became songspk.pk; musicindiaonline.com became musicindiaonline.co; and dishant.com became dishant.co and so on. So, while the music industry may have won a battle—that too partially, what with all the resurfacing of some of the sites—the war is still far from being over.

But what is this war all about? On the face of it, it is piracy and loss of revenue to the music industry. From a moral and legal point of view, the IMI action looks plausible. But when you look at it practically, it is bound to fail because of two reasons. One, well discussed by many bloggers, is technical: it is virtually impossible to completely ban sites. In any case, restricting through ISPs would work only in India.

But the other reason—and I think it is far more important—is that the music industry is not yet prepared to embrace the change that would actually give them back the power. We have come to a situation like this because the music industry has been lax in moving with the times. People’s unwillingness to pay is only part of the reason for piracy. An equally strong reason is access to music. In my school/college days, for example, there was virtually no way to “get a song” without “recording it (read piracy)” till Gulshan Kumar exploited a loophole in the law to re-record many of the yesteryear’s hits in newer singers’ voice and offer an alternative. And even though these songs stood nowhere in comparison to the original, people lapped them up because they were affordable and more importantly, they were widely available. In fact, many people in my generation might have first listened to a song in Babla Mehta’s voice before listening to the the Mukesh original! Kumar created a few star singers such as Kumar Sanu and Sonu Nigam in the process! And brought about the first big change in the industry.

While Kumar’s method and today’s illegal websites’ methods vary in terms of their legal status, their basic raison d’ etre is the same. T Series under Gulshan Kumar and many sites of today were created to make music reach people in a music-hungry nation in an easier, friendlier and cheaper manner.

Today, the users of those sites, if asked to pay some money, could actually end up paying, provided pricing is right and paying is trouble-free. After all, they have been paying for things like caller tunes amounts which are often 20-30% of their montly spend on mobile!

My argument is not meant to justify illegal streaming, but to point out that the music industry is as much responsible for the problem as anyone else. And it cannot fight the disease by trying to cure the symptom.

A look at the table here would tell the story. The data is from Google AdPlanner and may not be 100% accurate. But even if you take 30% error margin, you get to see the point. Why should an obscure name like song.pk would get millions of pageviews while India’s best known music brand—which also has a vast collection available in its site for downlaod—can muster only a few thousands? Yes, the fact that they are free could be a big reason; but you will be fooling yourself to argue that it is the only reason.

And yes, these traffic figures are for Marh 2012, which for the blocked sites, are a mere fraction of what they used to get before the ban. As one can see, the loss of these sites has translated to gain for some legal streaming sites and not for Saregama.com.

Traffic: Music Sites in India

SITE TYPE UV (India) PV (India) COMMENT
Songs.pk Illegal/blocked 5.6M 23M Dropped by almost 2/3rd between Jan-Mar
Smashits.com Illegal/blocked 830K 8.3M Dropped significantly between Jan-Mar
Dishant.com Illegal/blocked 570K 2.2M Dropped significantly between Jan-Mar
Musicindiaonline.com Illegal/blocked 320K 3.8M Dropped by almost 3/4th between Jan-Mar
Hummaa.com Legal 680K 2.6M No major gain between Jan-Mar
Gaana.com Legal 2.9M 16M Significantly moved up between Jan-Mar
Raaga.com Legal 2.2M 9.8M No major gain between Jan-Mar
Saavn.com Legal 1.1M 70M Significantly moved up between Jan-Mar
Dhingana.com Legal 1.6M 7.5M Actually dropped between Jan-Mar
Saregama.com Music Label 130K 230K No major gain between Jan-Mar

Source: DoubleClick AdPlanner by Google. All figures for March 2012 and for India traffic. K stands for thousands and M for millions. UV: Unique visitors. PV: pageviews

Most music companies believe that they can continue to do what they have been doing so far—recording the music, owning the copyright, and revenue should come to them automatically, even from newer channels. Legally, it is a valid stance. Practically, it is not.

So, what is the solution? It surely is not rocket science. Most of them know the answer; it lies in mainstreaming these sites and not excluding them. Medianama has carried an interview with Saregama CEO, who admitted as much.

We don’t want these sites to be shut down, we want them to pay a license fee and flourish as a business. There are legitimate businesses in operation too. The scope is there, and we want these sites to be legal.

But they must act. It should be right approach; right and transparent pricing. In another story, Medianama said that IMI was unwilling to share pricing. While sharing any exact pricing may be tough, it should reach out with a rough idea, because many of these sites are run by young kids in their 20s. They will not come running to get into sophisticated discussions.

It is not really lack of intention that is the problem with the industry. It is the discomfort with the disruptive changes. Take Saregama for example. It takes one step at a time. As a buyer of legal music all through, I have tried everything and can say with some authority how it has evolved. First came hamaracd but not with mp3. So, you could get around 10-12 tracks for Rs 300 or so. It won’t work half the time. Then came their current website with provision to download mp3s for a price. Then came a set of MP3 CDs—really beautiful compilations of old Indian light music—film, bhajans, ghazals—priced for Rs 75 for 40 songs. Almost all of them are gems. But try to look for them in any big store—Landmark, MusicWorld, Planet M—you will never find too many of those titles. The company site is silent about this series. Then came Flipkart’s Flyte, which made the downloads far easier and friendlier. Yet, unlike books, music is a mass market product and e-commerce with credit card/online banking is still pretty unreachable for many. Not surprisingly, cash on delivery has been the preferred mode for most e-commerce buyers in India. That is not an option in downloads.

With always connected devices, the future is clearly streaming. My own experience says that 80% of the music that I buy, I do not listen for more than 2-3 times. So, I will not mind if I can pay a very small price per listening a song. That requires a completely different kind of pricing. So, any song that costs Rs 6 at Flipkart Flyte should probably cost no more than 30 paise for listening once. This is not a suggestion by me based on any calculations, but just an illustration. The actual calculations may show even more dramatic pricing. What I want to point out is that it requires disruptive thinking.

But I must reiterate the point I made earlier. The bigger issue is ease of paying and not pricing. Even if it is 30 paise, a user with no credit card or online banking can do precious little. If, on the othe hand, the payment is through, say, a mobile, it is absolutely possible to target a much biggger base of users. It can be really simple. An SMS goes out with a code. Once the user enters the code, he can stream/download the music and it gets debited from his mobile balance. Yes, it requires talking to a couple of players—an operator/an independent payment gateway etc—but it is not impossible. And I am not stupid enough to believe that these ideas are my original and have not occurred to the bright guys who run the music business. Or for that matter, this is the only way it can be done!

The problem is not lack of ideas; it is not even lack of intention. It is just lack of strong will to disrupt a model that has been in place for so long. If the music industry does not do it, someone else will do it. Apple has already done it to a great extent, creating value for itself but making the music companies a little richer, which they seem . But as Apple without Jobs is beginning to face the possibility of an anti-trust trial in case of e-books, the closed model is being threatened.

As of now, the illegal web sites may be getting a few ads, which makes them sustain the business. But if they have to be in this business, they will have to charge the consumers or get targeted ads. These sites have to be convinced that they have to walk half way. The music industry must walk the other half. But as big boys, the onus is on the music industry to drive the change. Else, change will just happen—to them.

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Sorry Amazon, You Are Not Welcome

Today, the government notified what it calls the circular 1 of 2012, its fifth six-monthly update on Consolidated FDI Policy, since it began doing so in March 2010.

In one of the major clarifications that will impact e-commerce in India, the policy has clarified that “existing restrictions on FDI in domestic trading would be applicable to e-commerce as well.” Which means a foreign company cannot take either the automatic or government route to invest directly in a retail e-commerce venture in India. However, like in offline retail, it allows FDI B2B e-commerce. In short, all the rules of FDI that apply to offline retail would apply to e-commerce as well.

This is the first time that the government has clarified its stance on e-commerce. Earlier this year, in a column that I wrote in Dataquest, titled, Stoped FDI in Retail? Here Comes E-commerce, I wrote about this anomaly. “Online retail is not defined as retail by today’s government definition,” I pointed out that time.

Most of the e-commerce ventures, though, will not be affected, as few, if at anyone at all, has FDI investment. In fact, Amazon, which has been eyeing Indian market for a long time was not taking the big step anticipating this policy stance. So, it entered with junglee.com, a sort of marketplace, in the likes of eBay but targets different kind of sellers, mostly the e-commerce service providers. This India-specific services serves as an aggregator platform.

However, the market was rife with speculation that Amazon wanted to buy out Flipkart. It was even speculated that the two parties were in negotiation but there was valuation mismatch.

With this clarification, though, for the time being, any plan of Amazon to enter Indian market directly selling to consumers, has to be shelved.

 

 

 

 

 

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Flipkart’s Flyte: A Digital Aggregator Can Revolutionize Music

A couple of days back, one of the leading Indian e-commerce stores, Flipkart launched its digital music store, called Flyte. Flipkart has clearly stood out in the nascent e-commerce market in India, with its quality of services—be it in terms of online experience or more importantly, fulfilment.

The launch of the digital music store, that would enable buyers to download MP3s of albums or individual songs, has the potential to transform the music industry in India, if the company plays it well.

The fact that digital music is increasingly replacing physical media sales is no secret. According to the FICCI-KPMG Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2011, in 2010, digital music sales in India, with an estimated value of Rs 4.2 billion overtook the physical sales, that recorded a total sales of Rs 3.2 billion. Larger companies like Saregama have also witnessed the trend. In FY 11, more than 60% of Saregama revenues came from digital music sales. In fact, two years back, Saregama revamped its e-commerce site and a lot of its tracks are now available for online purchase, with good searchability functions.

So, what does Flyte bring in to the table, when the music labels already make it available on their site? On the face of it, it is the same thing that Amazon brings to the table, even though many publishers sell their books online. It aggregates music from different labels; gives a much better experience to the customers and offers far more interesting pricing models—combining individual track sales, full album sales and some amount of bundling. The fact that many small music publishers as well as some big labels do not have e-coommerce sites of their own only adds to the need of an aggregator like this, Surprising it may sound, Sony Music India does not have a dedicated web site and Universal Music India’s site is not e-commerce enabled!

But that is not the point. When the FICCI-KPMG research points out that digital music will grow more than four fold between 2010 too 2015, clocking Rs 14.8 billion in 2015 or that it will account for 79 percent of total sales by 2015 as opposed to 14 percent in 2006, they have taken business as usual growth—maybe taking into account the growth in digital device usage.

But there is far more that a strong independent digital music aggregator can do. In fact, it can not just disrupt the way music is sold, it can change the way music is published and distributed. There is hardly a better market than music where the Long Tail effect can be more true. For the uninitiated, the Long Tail principle is where the businesses do not need to spend a lot of time and energy in choosing what would be a blockbuster. The cost of storing and delivering is low/almost nil. So, they can virtually sell list anything for selling even if it interests a handful of buyers. The idea was popularized by Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired magazine in his 2006 classic book, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More. 

In some cases, people may actually end up choosing a blockbuster. Today, large music publishers do not touch new and upcoming artistes, unless someone somewhere is convinced about their ability to become big hits. So, many good artistes wait for ever for the “opportunity”. In some cases, their work is released by small/local labels, which do not have the muscle and wherewithal to market. Strong digital aggregators give both the enterprising artistes and the niche/small labels to publish their music. The only judge would  be the ultimate judge: the public. The role of filters is getting minimized in many areas and music is just fit for that.

In fact, there are some instances of such efforts already happening. Noted singer, Shubha Mudgal and her husband, popular Tablist Aneesh Pradhan, have established a label called Underscore Records and have released works of many upcoming artistes, a lot of which are sold in digital format in their website. It is an effort that is much admired within a small community, but how many of us know about some of the excellent music they have released? Similarly, in Odisha, noted administrator, educationist and popular lyricist Devdas Chhotray has started a new experimentation of setting some of the best poetry to music, with a young but talented composer and singer duo. The market for such work is worldwide where discerning Odias are, and not necessarily in a locality in Bhubaneswar, where you can find it. Digital music—more specifically, an independent digital music aggregator—can take it to Odias in Ohio or Oslo or Ooty, wherever they are. That is nothing short of a revolution.

A strong digital music aggregator like Flyte should be able to help a lot in making this possible. It has already impressed in the way it is designed, presented and the way it has priced. Though some of the problems—such as putting a picture of a Bengali movie poster in an Odia light songs album—that are imported from the original music label remain, those are small problems you can live with for some time.

In fact, one expects that in due time, it would add small films and documentaries too, some of which are never seen by anyone other than the jury of film festivals. The digital aggregator is the perfect medium to make them reach the public. But that is another task, maybe for another day.

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