Local mobile devices brand Astro is set to launch a new product called the Astro Mobi Store at the e-Tech Africa Expo 2014 scheduled for 12-14 March 2014. Yesterday I was at the Astro offices in Harare and had a chat with the Astro CEO, Munyaradzi Gwatidzo who gave me a glimpse of the Astro Mobi store which the company hopes will give local programmers, musicians, artistes and authors a platform to distribute and sell their production via digital.
The Astro Mobi store is basically a free, Android based local digital content store modeled around the Google Play and the Apple Store where third party content providers or owners can sell their content on. The Astro Mobi Store is a replacement of the Astro Market that we had the chance to view last year but felt it left a lot to be desired.
As expected, Astro is making some bold claims on what this new Mobi Store can do especially for the Music industry.
Come next week, Astro will be asking local musicians to exclusively sell their music through the Astro Mobi store in return for some level of protection from piracy. How will the Astro Mobi Store protect the musicians from piracy?
Well, Astro is claiming that the music sold on their Astro Mobi store will be encrypted and can only be played via a special media player that comes with the Astro Mobi store.
Astro is also saying that their Mobi Store has all major local mobile money services (EcoCash, Telecash, OneWallet and Textacash) enabled for users to make payment for the content. We understand that the company will be testing the payments integration this week so it’s not ready yet. Payment can also be made via Astro’s own payment system called PayIt and Astro credits, which basically work the same way as gift cards.
On the other hand, Astro will charge musicians $25 a year for unlimited song listings and a 30% commission on all music sales through their Mobi Store.
If this Mobi Store takes off with everything that Astro has spoken about in place, then it will present real opportunities for local content producers especially musician who seem to have lost the fight against piracy. Music sales that benefit the artist are almost now non-existent and if they can get the pricing right, the Astro Mobi store could just work for them.
I am sure there are thousands of consumers who will be willing to buy local music on their device from anywhere at anytime, but the price has to be right to make a case against going to the music pirates.
However the idea of playing music on one particular media player because the file is encrypted as Astro claims may not be attractive to both consumers and the musicians themselves.
All payment solutions also have to be fully integrated at launch. Astro’s PayIt is not even live yet and nobody will buy Astro credits at this early stage because the store will likely have little content available to spend these on. We are hoping to get the APK file of the app before the end of this week and it will give us some indication on how prepared Astro is with this product and if the encryption claims are true.
Astro is scheduled to meet musician early next week and they will try to convince them to distribute their music exclusively via the Astro Mobi store. The company says musicians who list for this service during this initial meeting will not have to pay the $25 annual fee but the commissions will still apply.
With legit local music sales close to zero, they probably have nothing to lose from signing up. However, Astro needs to be realistic about what their solution will do for the musicians. They definitely should not promise that, because of the encryption and the special media player, the artist’s music will never be pirated again. They simply don’t know this and their encryption has never been tested in a live environment.
I presume that the point that the Mobi Store is offering musicians an opportunity to sell their music at anytime, from anywhere is enough value propositions for our market. If the Astro Mobi store works, artist will be able to sell digitally directly to the public without the need to go in the streets, assemble speakers and start shouting “dollar for two CDs”.
Is Astro’s offer enough to ask for exclusivity? Maybe not, but what other options are available for our local musicians to benefit form music sales?
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