Hey online music services, over here!

I just don’t get it. Why hasn’t iTunes’ music offering, Amazon’s mp3 Store, eMusic or a kickass streaming service like Spotify or Rhapsody launched in South Africa yet? There’s so much happening internationally, yet promising developing countries like South Africa aren’t invited to the party. Why?

The most commonly used reasons are licensing issues and the insignificant size of our market when compared to Europe and the U.S. Whatever. This is a massive opportunity being overlooked by the Big Guns. Strikes, lack of infrastructure, and the costs associated with setting up shop in a new territory are not applicable. South Africa is the gateway to Africa, and as far as available music services go there’s very little competition.

Although the iTunes store is open to South Africans, only apps are available for purchase. The choices when using a mobile device are cellular networks and those fly-by-night companies that advertise on eTV. For desktop purchases, music consumers can visit the Nokia OVI Store, Omusic and the newly launched Look & Listen mp3 Store.

For some consumers this is okay, but none of these options excite me. I’m a wannabe tech geek and Apple fan girl with strange music tastes. I want to buy from a platform that I know and trust to just work. Why should I be forced to settle for less because of my geographical location?

It makes even more sense for RiSA to push for an iTunes launch, since the volume of legitimately paid-for sales through the US iTunes store must be staggering. There are many South African websites that make reference to opening a fake US iTunes account, and even more devoted to the sale of iTunes vouchers. Unfortunately, all that money leaves the South African economy… Also, it’s illegal.

There are dozens of forums and sites detailing how to mask a South African IP address to access legitimate music services currently unavailable in South Africa. There are also plenty BitTorrent networks to choose from if you want to rip off artists. In this day and age we’re able to take from cyberspace what we want when we want it, which is why I believe the key to reducing piracy is to make it easier to find and pay for a song than to steal it.

Sure, it takes time to get the licensing agreements and publishing in place, but other international companies have shown that getting local agreements in place can be done. From there the rest of Africa can be a cinch, especially where broadband penetration is better. Where there’s a will, and maybe some smart strategic foresight, there’s a way. Hopefully we’ll start seeing some more international competition in this space soon.


Author: Wendy

My hovercraft is full of eels. Genuinely interested in music metadata.

8 thoughts on “Hey online music services, over here!”

  1. Having personally set-up the L&L site and negotiated all the contracts, I can tell you that the problem lies with the labels/companies and their international counterparts. The industry has trained people to find loopholes or simply just steal music on-line. INT competiton will simply water down an already tiny (but growing) market. There is much to be done – L&L site is by no means perfect, but we’ve managed to do what no other music retailer in SA had been able to do – launch an affordable DRM free MP3 site that includes ALL major labels plus a few indies at just over 3 million tracks. This has taken 20 months to date! Sadly, many of the indies and individual artists who deal direct with iTunes will probably never be on our site. At this stage the numbers are still too low for the majors. I shop on eMusic & 7digital and cannot always find what I’m looking for. I search iTunes from time to time and they to have gaps (although the seamlessness of Apple and it’s products is a pleasure). There is not one music site that has everything – even the good but essentially illigal Russian sites don’t (and their quality is questionable)

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  2. I will be slightly more BLUNT than Marc was… when labels like Sony and Universal stop asking for these ridiculous advances maybe a proper music service would launch in SA. Also the iTunes issue not entirely upto RISA but also the ridiculously oudated copyright laws on music in South Africa. Trust me this is a battle I’ve been fighting but until the old school regime at Risa moves on nothing will change. Might at add that the board at RISA consists of top people at Universal, Sony etc. So again… our industry is being held back by the same people who want to see it grow.Yes I know someone will bitch at me and say it’s not that simple.. but fuck that. It is.. I reported a certain blog to RISA pirating music about 4 months back. Nothing was done.. took me less than 1 weekend to close it down.I reported another SAMA Winner artist/dj to a major label .. who is not only bootlegging all their big artists but also SELLING these bootlegs online. What response do I get.. an email forwarded to Pierre saying “please look into this”.Fuck that shit… protect your music. I spend 30 minutes a day reporting links on Fileserve, Mediafire, Facebook, Zippy Share etc and have most of my linkes removed in 24 hours. Majors sit back and forward to the poor 1 man show at RISA to take down, which goes to IFPI and can take weeks if not months to take down.What has my rant on piracy got to do with legal download stores? Simple.. labels in SA need to get off their asses and do something. See how many pirated version of my Bump 28 you can find online? Hardly none cause we take them down. If this industry stood together and didn’t depend on RISA solely to change copyright laws something might eventually give.Google around “itunes music store south africa” you will find some interesting press comments about one major in particular.

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  3. Thanks for the comments guys. @Marc Sure, there’s enough red tape in the process of setting up an online music store to wrap every hungry African child. There is however a big difference between negotiating locally and internationally. I don’t believe a big international player will wither the market – in fact I think it will do the opposite. The magnitude of the marketing generated by the launch of iTunes music will put a spotlight on digital music purchasing in general, and even those without an apple product or iTunes running on their PC will want to take part. It will simply release the handbrake on how we consume music…Also, I do applaud Look & Listen. As a traditional physical retailer you guys are the only company that has been able to move with the times. My criticism is not with the depth of your catalogue. I certainly am not looking for all the music ever created by human beings on planet Earth. I just want the service I want… iTunes. So in a sense it’s not you, it’s me. @Nic Nice rant. I know we’re evil. I hear it often, so let’s move on. You know that these deals are usually set up internationally as point of origin. Once that’s in place there’s a focus on the territory and people make it happen. Yes, there’s a lot of rot in the industry, but that’s why we stick around, right? To clean it up, because we care. Because we LOVE music. I’m really interested, but I can’t find the press comments you’re referring to. Would you post a link please? Chin up, and keep protecting your artists.

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  4. hehehehe I LOVE YOU WENDY… 😛 hhahah never thought you were evil hahah. To make you feel better when I was at Cell C a certain label *cough* SONY *cough* wanted us to pay to use artists image to advertise THEIR own album. That mentality is what kills digital stores growing in SA. Won’t even mention the other major who I flew to see in UK and in a direct and really frank discussion I asked the question about advances amd got the answer “no, we are willing to look at advance free deals especially in emerging markets” that directly from the international digital director. Yet the South African counterpart “we don’t do advance free deals, it’s not even open for discussion”, and just so you know that wasn’t Universal……Then my FAVOURITE one is poor guys like Nokia. Every major got on board in rest of world except here.. they made to jump through hoops. I take my hat off to Marc for having the patience to deal with the egos on digital.

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  5. Thanks for the little Nokia mention there Nic. We’re doing what we can to support and promote legal digital downloads in South Africa, but the fact is that it’s about education education education, and not just by the people trying to sell the music – the Rhythms, L&Ls, Nokia Musics, etc, – but from the artists, the artist managers, and the labels. Smaller indies tend to be more agile and DIY, but my experience has been that there is generally a digital gal or guy or two in a label and they are the ONLY ones who know that digital music is available legally in South Africa. No one else has a clue. There have been no internal campaigns held in majors and big indies alike to talk about promoting, utilising, supporting digital music… often it’s just a global mandate which no one locally cares about and so on we go. I’m speaking generally of course, there are always exceptions. So we do our bit to educate whoever we can touch, consumer, label, artist, and we carry on chipping away at this mega-job as we’ve been, and please L&L, RhythmOnline, OMusic and whoever else is doing legal digital speak up, say more about digital music because more needs to be said. Wendy, I can guarantee that the retailers you want will come once the hard work is done.

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  6. Thanks Dom. You guys have been in the trenches in terms of doing the slog work, and you’ve been doing a fantastic job. I agree with you – generally speaking, digital just isn’t a priority yet. Of course everyone says it is, but unfortunately South Africa (and Africa in general) is still in the Wild West stage of development. There’s very little trust and plenty of cowboys. I guess we all do the best with what we have.

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