Technology is NOT killing the music industry

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An interesting article by Fred Zindi titled “Technology killing music industry” appeared in the Herald of the 6th of December. Fred Zindi is a professor at the University of Zimbabwe. He is also a musician and an author of several books on music.

His case is based on the assertion that the ability by people to make copies of music illegally, easy and cheap access to blank CDs and CD writing equipment which was impossible when he started his career as the ultimate source.

In the past, one could not reproduce a vinyl record because of the complex nature of the processes involved in making records. Nowadays with the advent of computer technology, music can easily be accessed through CDs, MP3s and downloads such as YouTube.

Music piracy has undoubtedly had a negative effect on music sales world over, and as he rightly points out, many former great music stores such as BMG Music have gone under. He however further goes on to say,

The demise of such big businesses is mainly due to technological advancement which has allowed piracy to prevail and has propelled some unscrupulous people reaping where they did not sow.There is no doubt that music piracy affects record stores, record companies and their artistes. It is reported that online music piracy alone has caused some record stores sales to drop by 20 percent every year.

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I agree that ‘old-style’ record stores have been the hardest hit by piracy but can their falling fortunes ultimately mean the end of the music business as a whole? Business leaders nowadays have to act faster and as such like many other businesses that failed to adapt and realign their activities on technological advancements, the music industry was found wanting.

While record stores sales and general CD and cassette sales globally have dropped, digital sales have risen at rates of 15-20% per year and are expected to overtake CD sales in 2012. Nielsen Sound Scan reports that globally thanks to digital music, album sales are up for the first time since 2004.

When one business fails another takes over and as such online music stores have become hits with iTunes posting revenues in excess of $1.1billion every quarter this year and are expected to generate $13 billion in revenues by 2013.Esther Dyson, a former journalist and Wall Street technology analyst said not a long time ago, “It may not always be profitable at first for businesses to be online, but it is certainly going to be unprofitable not to be online.” What better evidence to support this.

The main challenge is fighting copyright theft and infringement so that artists and copyright holders are fairly compensated from their works. The reality however is that file sharing is here to stay with new digital technologies making copying digital music easier and cheaper every year.

Zimbabwe’s technological, economic and social situation may not currently be the best for digital sales to boom but just blaming technology and expecting people to buy music the way they used to do 10 or so years ago is a bit unreasonable. The universal movement of technology is to make life easier; “those who initially resisted and wanted hard copy CDs changed their minds when they discovered they get albums for half the price without ever leaving home to get the latest music”, he rightly points out.

The blatant truth is that the industry needs to find new business models and look to diversify aggressively if it is to survive.Instead of just finding artists and marketing CD sales, recording companies should take a cue from global acts like EMI Music whose deals now include elements such as merchandising, brand endorsements, live performances and even market research, popularly termed 360° deals.

An alternative approach to selling music currently being championed in other countries is the blanket licensing initiative. According to EFF, the concept is simple: the music industry forms several “collecting societies,” which then offer file-sharing music fans/sellers the opportunity to “get legit” in exchange for a reasonable regular payment. While our bandwidth gets to speed with others globally, we can give sellers monthly licenses to make their own copies maybe CDs on a sell all-you-can-eat basis. Such licenses can allow anyone to apply for and get a music sales startup off the ground without a problem.

Though the Anti-Piracy Organisation of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Music Rights Association can only work with limits of the law, as he complains, I feel they can work with the legislature and ZRP a bit more to take an active role in bringing those who sell pirated music to book and give them severe punishment to deter piracy.

While the idea of increasing CD prices to $1 and imposing restrictive fees on blank CD sales, he suggests is a ‘noble’ one, I however feel that even such prices relative to new/original discs, people will still go for pirated discs. And as highlighted above, other new cheaper technologies such as flash sticks will then be used if CDs become a burden.

It is a fact that the only constant is change, thus adaption should be primary instinct. Wishing “the good old vinyl record (which is difficult to reproduce), is brought back, musicians might start to earn a decent living through record sales once again”, is definitely not the answer for the local music industry.

9 Comments

  1. CyberTech says:

    These days musicians release an album with 1 or two good songs and expect listeners to pay a fortune for those two songs plus a bunch of gabbage? Why not do it the way the guys who produced the local film lobola did, they started marketing the film before they had not even finished shooting the film and created a lot of hype. when it was finally finished they produced a lot of copies and as soon as they premiered it soon they where on the streets with a lot of stock of the film at a very affordable price piraters could not even beat and the film was selling like hotcakes, in shops, at intersections, bus terminas…..they painted the town yellow. Musicians would have to do the same for their CDs to be bought as well either market it or simply wait so that u can get a bit from LIVE shows.

    As for selling music online i think we are slowly getting there and soon artists will be able to benefit. Its only that our internet in Zimbabwe is still very slow imagine how long it would take you to download Macheso’s 15minute songs on the internet using econet’s broadband, it would most likey timeout before it finishes.

  2. “…the industry needs to find new business models” WTG, and business models that suite our environment – Its no use having an local iTunes-like store given the current Internetworking infrastructure, it won’t be as successful.

  3. Brian Kazungu says:

    i find the one sided talk about piracy very naive. i am of the opinion that the consumer council should rather be found doing something to help music lovers from unscrupulous musicians.

    the music industry is slowly turning into an empire of crooks and fraudsters who just spend less time thinking about a sensible song and later mix their music basket with ‘trash’ compilations expecting the people to buy the whole lot.

    what sort of an industry would allow such an evil way of thinking to be supported by hard earned money. this is happening because of ill conceived copyrights legislature and music houses without an appreciation of the changing times coupled with limited strategic management capacities.

    these guys were so much used to ill gotten money with less than little expenses but technology has helped us all. they have tremendously benefited from the mass production of music products resulting from technology but greedy have made them think it is impossible to share the gains with the consumers.

    the mere fact that the disc can be copywriten and be mass produced shows that somebody is just being stubborn to reality all this coming from shameless blinding greedy and too some extend resulting from poor management skills.

    let the musicians and the music houses mass produce the discs and sell at a lower price and the fortune they can amass. they are just being rude and stubborn to the facts and they will suffer the consequences.

    how are people forced to buy a whole haulage truck just because it has good tyres……………..consumer council please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!we are being forced to buy the whole cd because we like two songs imagine!

    the people everywhere do really like original products but they are also careful buyers.

  4. Anesufreddy says:

    ADAPT OR DIE!!!

    Technology is here..and it’s changing every other day. Face that fact and work around it. This is a ship that you can’t stop….figure out a way to get onto it.

    Did you know that because of the same technology…many artists have managed to release their albums and furthered their cause?

    Nyaya iyi iri multifaceted! It’s not just about mp3’s and $1 CDs…it also touches thngs to do with quality of music (yes that’s right I said it), the time we’re at in the zimbabwe, legislation, the speed at which we’re catching up with some technolgies but not others…and so on.

  5. Mutorashanga says:

    Technology has actually made it easy for ANYONE to be in the industry. Did you know that 80% of music these days is done on PIRATED software. One can complete an album on a laptop and no need to go to a studio if one has good sound engineering skills.

  6. Prosper Chikomo says:

    Fred Zindi, Fred Zindi, Fred Zindi, the guy is not even an economist, business guru, or tech guru. What he is saying is the same thing many musicians in the early 1900s said when Edison invented the gramophone. They saw their business of performing in bars going to the dogs….

    “Fred Zindi of University of Zimbabwe”. Better the UZ part had not been mentioned because if you ask a professor from Cambridge of Oxford, or even Stanford what his thoughts on music distribution, formats and trends are, it will not be the same as what Zindi says.

    Zindi even writes like a confused young man, as old as he is, when he says, “The demise of such big businesses is mainly due to technological
    advancement which has allowed piracy to prevail and has propelled some
    unscrupulous people reaping where they did not sow.There is no doubt
    that music piracy affects record stores, record companies and their
    artistes. It is reported that online music piracy alone has caused some
    record stores sales to drop by 20 percent every year.”

    The guy should have his articles peer reviewed before publication as they are self-contradictory and make no sense.

    Apple Inc, has no artists, and has no artists, and has no stable, yet it has sold over 2 billion paid for songs thanks to technological advancements he so criticizes with a recommendation akin to saying we should ban technological progress and new means of distributing music and stick with vinyl records. apple rose to become a big business doing a great service to musicians who earn 70% pof 99 US cents the music downloads are sold for.

    Mr Zindi himself a musician, i bet, will never allow his music to be sold for 99 cents. he would definitely want US$15 per album of his that may have 9 boring songs and one really good one.

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