Digital Music,the African Way

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(from New York Times, March 24, 2013)   The music business recently celebrated a breakthrough in the form of its first revenue growth since 1999, but Africa was unable to join the party.  Digital music has been responsible for the improvement in the industry’s brighter overall outlook, but has failed to catch on in most of the Africa region.  Sources say that may be about to change, as new local and international digital music services open and expand, proposing a potential profit for industry executives and investors.

Universal Music Group and Samsung announced this month the creation of The Kleek, a Pan-African digital music service that offers a radio like experience.  It includes music from Universal’s international catalog and from local artists.  Universal says it wants to sign other major record companies to The Kleek and has agreements with a number of African labels.  Recently, South Africans were given access to the iTunes digital music store from Apple.

While digital music now accounts for more than half of the revenue in the music industry in the United States, and is finally making a substantial contribution to the bottom line in Europe and some Asian markets, the challenges remain formidable in Africa, analysts say.  In South Africa, there is little or no official music-licensing structure across much of the region and often no way for musicians and other rights holders to collect revenue from sales or performances of their work.  Analysts say digital music still accounts for less than 10% of sales in South Africa.

Broadband connections, especially the fixed-line variety, are unavailable or may be considered a luxury in Africa.  Downloading and streaming music or other media to desktop computers is a niche market, that’s why most African consumers listen to digital music on their mobile phones.  “It’s easy to turn on digital services in new markets,” said Francis Keeling, Global head of the Digital Business at Universal,  “the difference is, are they going to have local content, editorial teams and realistic pricing, along with active marketing.  We looked at the market for a long time and decided that Africa needed its own service, aimed at African consumers.”