JOHANNESBURG — This month, Apple announced the launch of their iTunes music store in 56 countries, including 14 on the African continent. The launch means easier purchases for consumers, and a whole new brand of competition for existing music stores.
iTunes is an online store that allows computer users to purchase and download music and videos online. While it offers a new option for consumers in the music marketplace, iTunes is likely going to turn down the volume at Africa's brick-and-mortar music retail stores.
On a typical weekday morning, shoppers flipped through the CD section at the Musica Megastore in Sandton City, an upscale mall north in Johannesburg.
A mother and her daughter left the store after buying a few DVDs. But 17-year-old Sarah said she was an immediate fan of the iTunes launch.
"I started buying music on iTunes now that it opened. I've already bought like five songs. I think I'll start buying most of my music on iTunes, but I think I will still come to stores like this every once in a while if I want the actual CD, like hardcopy," she said.
Her mother, Vivian, was a tougher sell.
"I'm old school, I don't buy anything online. I'm definitely still a hard-copy person," she said.
Such holdouts are one aspect of keeping the brick-and-mortar stores going. But another aspect is diversifying products. While two of the largest music retailers in southern Africa, Look and Listen and Musica, declined to grant interviews, Musica did issue a welcoming statement to the new online retailer. It reads as follows:
"The official launch in South Africa sits comfortably with our expansion into entertainment-related products such as headphones, portable speakers, docking stations, etc."
The statement gives an optimistic view of how iTunes will affect music sales. The statement continues:
"In addition, CD sales will increase as they will benefit from additional exposure through iTunes, combined with the continuing demand for the physical format that still exists in this country."
Apple declined to be interviewed, but its entrance into the African marketplace isn't a huge surprise, as other online retailers already have started chipping into the music market here.
"I don't think the effect will be felt immediately, but it will be felt fairly soon," said Arthur Goldstuck, an author specializing in technology, and managing director of World Wide Worx.
"It's not really only iTunes itself that will make that effect felt, but the ongoing barrage of digital weapons, or you could say digital attacks, that are emerging," he said.
While consumers will have more options, there are a few factors that may help brick-and-mortar retailers here. Internet here is generally bought by the megabyte, rather than as an unlimited monthly service. Also, as of 2011, Internet access was below 20 percent in South Africa, and nearly 29 percent in both Nigeria and Kenya, so many customers won't have access to purchase music online.
"That's certainly what's keeping stores going for now," said Goldstuck. "Keeping them alive is the fact that most people don't have that kind of access online. Particularly it you are going to find that's going to change as more and more people realize they can access the music cheaper as well as more easily through these services. That's going to change."
Goldstuck said Apple's move into Nigeria could provide a new outlet for music downloading.
"The music industry hasn't really figured out how to solve the piracy issue in Nigeria. when it gets to Nigeria, I think that could help to change that particular industry," he said. "In most of the African countries it's really just going to bring all this music to the masses for the first time, people who would've never had access to anything like as wide a range of music as they do through the iStore."
In the end, customers like Darryl Bome, of Johannesburg say they're more likely to head online than to the mall.
"What I think a lot of people would do, or what I actually do, is go into a store have a look at a couple of music tracks, a couple of tracks that I want to think about and download, definitely get onto iTunes, purchase those as single tracks without purchasing the entire album and create my own list. So, I think its a great thing, I think its a great, great thing," said Bome.