If you can’t read Chinese you don’t tend to go to the Baidu site more than once. It has very little that is in the Western alphabet, let alone in English. There are the Investor relations pages (Baidu is listed on NASDAQ in New York) but there is also a listing above the search box simply titled MP3. (The fact that there is no easy explanation of how to advertise on Baidu is something you should talk to us about).
The MP3 service is really important to Baidu, although how important is disputed. The Baidu 500 (in Chinese) are the popularity ratings from Baidu’s MP3 service. It is seen as the definitive guide to what music is really popular in China. It is as if iTunes most popular downloads replaced the Billboard (in the US) or Radio 1 (UK) charts.
As part of our study, we gave our participants a completely free task to conduct on their engine to kick off the session. They can search for whatever they want to. We typically do this to get them comfortable with the equipment and also to get a baseline heat map of what typical scanning activity should look like. In the Google group, we saw a pretty even distribution of tasks, including information searches and product searches. With the Baidu group, almost every one of them used their free search to look for an MP3 file.
This is a current concern. One of the big bugbears of China’s Western trading partners is what they allege to be a relaxed relaxed Chinese attitude to copyright piracy. Baidu has already been sued by local copyright holders and they have been apparently targetted by Beijing over this service, although if you look at the date lines you will see that they are still going strong with the MP3 service.
The question to many is could Baidu be forced to lose it’s MP3 service and what would happen if it did? We think that there are many shots left in Baidu’s locker, and that the MP3 question is overplayed, but it is something to look for in the future any way.