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.
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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.
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.