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Digital music sales in Zimbabwe. Taking it to the next level

Internet-based music stores have been on the rise globally and continue to gain momentum. Selling music files on a per-song, albums and/or subscription basis at lower prices has become a phenomenon. Online music stores such as iTunes and Amazon MP3 are now the biggest music retailers in the US, selling almost 25% of all music in the US. This represents opportunities for businesses in developing ICT markets like Zimbabwe and can help revive the countries’ music industries which have been on a downward spiral.

With online shopping starting to become a reality, one would have thought this would have also translated into higher online music sales. A number of music stores, such as Zimaudio, Zimvibes, Mbira and a few others are now available but current sales, as according to the figures we got from one online distributor, haven’t been high enough to warrant any excitement within the sector Total sales of all artists are usually on the low side with some artists failing to record even a single sale in a month.

What then is affecting this potential gold mine for artists? In general, the music stores have failed to prove to the musicians that they can sell their music online and make it worthwhile for the musicians, and as a result musicians are not clear the value added through online digital music sales.

Last year, a UK based start-up which I’m part of that runs a Zim music website hosted a workshop in conjunction with Metro Studios and I was attached as part of the software development team to educate and sign up artists onto a new platform the start-up had built. A number of artists were however absent and a majority those that attended were initially not enthusiastic about the proposal. The feeling among them was that it was another business venture which would exploit them and had very little/minimal benefit to them as they initially thought they would not be able to monitor their sales.

The marketing by online stores is a bit lacking as well, thus you will find very little knowledge of them. I’m sure most of our readers would have struggled to name just two local online music sales sites. On the local scene, the lack of a convenient payment method such as credit cards or internet banking (that goes beyond a bank having a platform for its customers to transfer cash and check balances) coupled with a lack of access to decent internet to download their purchases excludes a very significant group of potential customers.

Currently, a lot of pirate online music sites are available claiming rights to sale music though obviously the money obtained from such sales is not remitted to the artists. Further to this, some recording labels have a tendency of holding on to music and selling it to pirate sites because they tend to benefit from such deals when musicians don’t get anything from it. It’s bigger profit margins for them.

Figures from shows held by a number of current artists, as well as the comparative online sales suggest that they are not well known in the diaspora, the majority of the current market, which poses problems for promoting and selling their products.

With retail payments for mobile and internet streams having grown 108% and 54% from last year June to this year June, it is imperative that online stores fully utilize these payment gateways so that many local people can buy digital music.

To derive better value from these stores musicians should appreciate that authorised local online music sales tend to benefit them. Local artists should take a cue from international artists such as Coldplay and must actively engage and promote their works on these stores, possibly through social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook. A store where only zim music is sold should be more advantageous compared to global stores like iTunes where they compete with international names such as Jay-Z and Beyonce.

Recording studios also ought to look at the benefits of online music sales and as such avail music within their portfolios timely. My research as part of Songear showed that people in the diaspora are starved of local music thus studios should realise that there is a market for such where they can make some money.

Action has got to be taken against all sites that are selling music online without the authority of both recording studios and artists. There is also need to ensure that the pricing for music is reasonable to the local market as currently the legal routes to acquiring music are considered quite expensive. Such pricing tends to hamper legal sales and as such people opt for pirated copies of that music.

There is a great opportunity for local music to earn its stand on the international market only if all concerned parties pull together.

image credit: zimaudio.com


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7 thoughts on “Digital music sales in Zimbabwe. Taking it to the next level

  1. Unfortunately, until something is done about the rampant piracy in this country, any kind of music sales will be hamstrung and struggle to make any headway.

  2. http://www.embargo.ca/zim/info/labels.htm
    I’ve had this site on my bookmarks for some time and wondered how best to go about getting distribution rights of their entire catalogues and what sort of pricing would make this service viable and what works could be provided for free, The internet has improved over the last year both in terms of speed and uptake by people in the country, however piracy is so rife that is makes it almost not worth while trying to purchase music officially.
    If only the cellular networks could embrace third parties in allowing the billing of customer’s for music purchases and actually delivering the content to handsets once confirmation of the purchase has been done. I think it would most certainly motivate artists to market their works more on social networks and more into their pockets.
    I am of the opinion that people do want to support artists and get whatever song as quickly and reliably as they can.

  3. Musicians themselves through their producers like Joseph Madziyire are now selling their music through reverbnation.com which does have facebook intergration. A track is 0.99c, the whole system I think is integrated with Amazon.com and iTunes. My advise to musicians is to sign up with e-retailers and start getting rewarded for their work. WinkyD, Maskiri etc are examples of musicians selling directly online. Still a disruptive app or technology is still possible on a local level

  4. Piracy is now very mature locally, lol maybe Swav/G-TIDE/etc etc should offer a replica of iTunes, remove bluetooth functionality, expandable memory and then DRM protect music.

  5. I think Digital music sales in Zimbabwe will remain a pipe-dream as long as there is no simple online-payment facility. The same goes for all other types of e-commerce/online selling. If the music purveyor only expects payment via credit card directly or indirectly (via Paypal), it’s not not going to get traction locally. Not that I’d trust any site to store my credit card number in the first place.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Payment is the final hurdle in the way of any meaningful local e-commerce activity. Anyone who cracks this will hit a home-run, guaranteed.

    @twitter-235487886:disqus DRM does not work because it punishes everybody in the hope that nobody can beat the system,  and I hope you’re suggesting the removal of functionality from phones with tongue in cheek. The music industry does not have more rights than others (despite what RIAA/hollywood migh want to let you believe).

  6. Like anything else, ‘change always takes time’. However, with the recent economical and technological changes,I believe Zimbabwe will be forced (slowly) to accept e-commercializing and online marketing as the way forward.

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