Digital killing the CD star in Africa - TechCentral

Digital killing the CD star in Africa


Video did indeed kill the radio star in the 1980s, and the compact disc replaced the traditional vinyl record. And although the CD is not yet dead, Africa has now joined the global trend of going digital to get its music.

The recording industry has finally woken up to Africa’s cellphone revolution by working across the continent to establish innovative services and invest in local artists.

Frances Moore, CEO of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, recently highlighted the increasing importance that the international recording industry places in Africa:

It is a region that is seeing fast economic growth and the spread of technology is enabling our members and their business partners to reach vast new audiences

The CD’s days seem numbered. In 2014, the recording industry’s global digital revenues increased by 6,9% to US$6,8bn. It received the same amount of income from digital channels (46%) as physical format sales (46%).

CD sales in three key markets on the continent — South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria — are showing a heavy decline as music lovers ditch them for digital downloads.

It is forecast that digital’s share of total spending on recorded music on the continent will rise to 67% by 2017. Music sold in the digital format in Nigeria in 2012 was around 49%. In Kenya, it is expected that consumer spending on digital music will overtake physical spending this year.

Digital sales in South Africa remain low because of the country’s poor broadband penetration. They are expected to account for just 14% of South African recorded music retail sales by 2017.

But the appetite of South Africans for CDs remains. CD sales, which make up the bulk of physical recorded music sold in South Africa, shrank from 15,9m units in 2012 to 12,2m in 2013. Physical sales are forecast to drop to 12,6m by 2017, almost half of the 23m sold in 2008.

But how much are these music markets worth in total? South Africa’s music market was worth $177m in 2012, down from the 2008 revenue of $209m. Annual revenue is forecast to grow marginally, remaining relatively flat at $179m in 2017.

Kenya’s music market generated revenues of $19,8m in 2012, up from $16,5m in 2008. Annual revenue is expected to go up in 2015 to $20,7m, but drop slightly by 2017.

Nigeria’s music market generated revenues of $51,3m in 2012, up from the 2008 amount of $45m. Annual revenue is forecast to reach $53,8m in 2017.

Even though these numbers are low compared with other regions, Africa is expected to become one of the most lucrative markets for the music industry with the expectation of fast economic growth over the next few years. The industry has acknowledged the huge potential and has appointed a specialist to work in emerging markets on the continent for this purpose.

Previously, Africa was not considered a key market by the recording industry because sales did not come close to bigger markets on other continents. That has changed since the smartphone explosion in Africa. Digital technology is enabling the recording industry to effectively reach mass numbers of consumers across Africa for the first time.

The recording industry has wised up to the smartphone as a marketing tool for music. This makes sense, since the growing trend internationally has been for digital music and streaming, both of which appear to be the perfect fit for the average smartphone user.

Across Africa, the consumption of music looks set to develop and grow parallel to the growth of smartphones. There were 778m mobile subscriptions in Africa at the end of June 2013. The continent’s mobile subscription count will reach one billion during 2015 and 1,2bn by the end of 2018.

While cashing in on the technological revolution, the industry across Africa and internationally faces the growing challenge of music piracy. This remains the single biggest threat to the livelihood of artists.

Apart from depriving artists of the royalties they deserve, it means one cannot obtain a true reflection of what has been sold. Globally, the music industry has embarked on a number of initiatives, including teaming up with Internet service providers to curb the problem.The Conversation

  • Karendra Devroop is professor of music at Unisa
  • This article was originally published on The Conversation


  1. “Digital sales in South Africa remain low because of the country’s poor broadband penetration.”

    I call BS on this. Music files are small enough to make the data cost less important. The problem is that there are too few online music outlets who sell DRM free music.

  2. Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling on

    But when you can buy a dvd at any rail station with 20-30 of the latest release cd’s for R20 why would you download?

  3. William Stucke on

    “Apart from depriving artists of the royalties they deserve”

    No, that’s already done very effectively by the “rights holders”. The ones threatened by so-called “piracy” are those rights holders who have failed to adapt to the 21st century.

  4. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    I work with artists and talent all the time and the biggest problems which I’ve seen over the years all point back to the advice they choose to follow.

    Everyone who claims to be an agent or manager has vested interests in enriching themselves and the same can be said for even me as a producer.

    There’s always going to be different options in the market as the times change and some of the choices which artists or talent must make require an understanding of where technology is going, legal matters, etc. but probably most important of all – entrepreneurial skills.

    Unfortunately people that are gifted with certain talents tend to be lazy and would rather put their faith in some one else as an agent, manager or even producer to look out for their interests… has never happened and will never happen in this world that we live in; because everyone takes care of #1 first.

    These guys need learn as much as they can for themselves about the industry and changing trends as well as legal matter so they can make the best choice for themselves in any given situation and stop the reliance on an agent or manager or even Vusi for that matter.

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