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.

Ja.fm streaming radio launches. Ja!

Last night I went to the public launch of the new Ja.fm website, which is a streaming radio station for Afrikaans music, run by Jacaranda FM. It was a great launch where Coenie de Villiers and Die Heuwels Fantasties played fantastic sets. The crowd were totally into it, and there were good vibes all round.

Now I think this is just what the Afrikaans music community needs. It’s obvious that streaming radio and music services are the future (see the international success of Spotify and in South Africa, 2OceansVibe Radio is rapidly gaining market share). For one website to embrace ALL Afrikaans music is a great step forward, especially since listeners are empowered to vote for what they like. There’s bound to be some controversy surrounding the songs that get added…which of course fuels listener involvement. It’s a win all round.

Here’s hoping that Ja.fm opens up the boerewors curtain to everyone.