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Some brief thoughts on Africa’s digital download future

November 20, 2010  »  BusinessNo Comment

Exactly one year ago, I published on post on the outlook for iTunes in Africa citing payment issues, bandwidth limitations, and the confinement of smartphones to urban areas, if at all present. This is a corollary to that viewpoint.

The landscape for African music downloads looks very promising, especially given the continent’s rich musical heritage and rapid mobile growth.

Broadly speaking, the Internet is all about phases. For the Western world it started with e-mail and then spread to e-commerce, then social media, and finally social media with an emphasis on rich media. For a variety of reasons, Africa still seems to be simultaneously settling in to the e-commerce and social media phases.

Ultimately, there needs to be a happy medium of demand between both the industry and consumer. Some challenges facing digital music downloads in Africa would be:

  1. the willingness of the music industry/record labels to sell digital music
  2. the amount of disposable income available to consumers
  3. the penetration of mobile devices able to play digital audio files
  4. the technical ability to pay for the service

It seems as if the willingness of consumers to spend money on digital music will only increase as e-commerce takes hold, as markets gradually strengthen, and as mobile penetration soars. Market research should suggest what suitable price points are for the digital downloads. Still, I’d like to know what share of the mobile phone market in Africa can handle digital downloads (vs. those devices that are simply used for SMS capabilities). Mobile payments are without a doubt a good idea for e-commerce sites.

YouTube would also be an obstacle for retail purchases, especially if Africans are coming to rely on it is the de facto for their online music needs. Africa is unique that it really doesn’t have significant online music history like developed countries did in the pre-YouTube years. How viable it would be to use the limited bandwidth situation to your advantage by saying “spend the time to download this song once so you will not have to wait for it to stream ever again”? Most likely, the typical African consumer won”t worry too much about audio quality.

Africa will be able to purchase millions of songs online. It will just take the right combination of entrepreneur, investor, telecom action, and music distributor to create a uniquely African platform.

Factors influencing Africa's online music future