I was motivated to write this article after Kylie published her piece on “playing our part” about promoting David through radio requests, online polls, downloading ringtones, video requests etc and it got me to thinking about the music industry in general and the situation in Malaysia in particular. I wondered whether the music scene in Malaysia had made much progress in terms of value and content since the days of Sheila Majid, Ella, KRU and Zainal Abidin. In what sort of environment would David Archuleta find himself in once he lands on our shores so to speak. To provide an analysis of the local situation it would be neccessary to first take a look at what’s happening on the international front and there appears to be a discordant note to the music.
The value of music sales began to boom in the 80s with the dawning of the digital age and reached a peak in 1996 with the full advent of the music cd replacing the old cassette tape format. This translated to sales of 3.4 billion units of cds with a retail value of over US$40 billion worldwide. However, since those heady days, according to figures reported by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry ( IFPI ), the music industry has taken a spin downwards with worldwide music sales last year of just over US$19 billion. A precipitous decline of at least US$21 billion from their peak in 1996 brought on by the freefall in sales of physical cds. This gloomy state of affairs is the aftermath of a sequence of events all coming together to, perhaps, strike the death knell of the music industry namely: competing entertainment avenues, piracy, illegal downloads, evolving tastes, disposable incomes and simply a general lack of interest in music.
In recent years though there has emerged a sliver of a silver lining to rescue the industry from the murky depths in the form of digital music through online music stores such as iTunes, Walmart, Amazon and others. IFPI’s analysis reveals that as of 2007, global music sales via online channels and mobile downloads rose from zero to US$2.9 billion – 15% of industry total but still far short of bridging the deficit brought about by the collapsing sales of physical cds although the projection for exponential growth of digital music is highly positive . Indeed Apple’s iTunes is now the number one digital music retailer in the US and therefore by extension the world, commanding 19% of digital music sales which according to industry estimates is equivalent to, on average, 2 million songs per week.
In our technology driven modern world and lifestyles the act of consuming music has taken on a far different tack when compared to even just 10 years ago. Nowadays we find it increasingly facile to purchase almost anything online including music. Technology has allowed us the means and freedom to have a wider choice of entertainment content and the form in which they come in. Consequently this has resulted in music consumers evolving in ways that the music industry never foresaw. The greatest change to the music ecosystem is that album sales are increasingly singles driven as songs are easily downloaded from any of the online music stores mentioned aforehand. Fans no longer buy albums just for one song and they will not invest in a whole album if there are not at least 3-4 good songs that they like. Kelly Clarkson’s Breakaway album powered by 5 singles including the Grammy winning Since U Been Gone sold in excess of 5 million copies and Rihana’s current Good Girl Gone Bad has to date shipped more than 2 million copies courtesy of 4 singles, three of which went to number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts. Interestingly enough though, Asia seems to be fertile ground for the advancement of the digital music format. In a 2006 survey commisioned by MTV, the Asia-Pacific region accounted for 30% of the market for mobile driven digital music and specifically in China where consumers spent US$1.5 billion on mobile downloads. Indeed 71% of people surveyed fully expected all or most music to be digital in the next few years.
What do these changing consumer trends and music business models hold for music fans and industry players in Malaysia? Well we are not immune to the downturn in the music business as the value of music sales in Malaysia has declined from a peak of RM315 million in 1996 to the last recorded figure of RM60 million. In terms of physical units sold the local market dropped from 17.5 million units to an alarming 4.3 million units sold during the same time period – a 75% plunge! Of course as we all know, Malaysia is rife with piracy which affects not only music but all manner of consumer items. In fact, as far as music goes, Malaysia has the dubious distinction of being a major hub for the distribution of bootleg copies of entertainment content and it is estimated that 22% of the international “trade” in illegal music originates from Malaysia. Not a very positive demonstration of the “Malaysia Boleh” spirit, I’m sure. Nevertheless one bright spark on the horizon is the digital music market which enjoys RM30 million in sales and growing as downloading ringtones is considered very much a hip and cool activity among the young and there is a tendency to change ringtones and callertones monthly. Many local artistes as well as international ones experience healthy sales of their work through the digital format. Figures of 80K to 250K digital downloads of single songs are not unheard of even at the same time that sales of pysical cds are plummeting.
So what will be in store for David as he debuts his cd in Malaysia? One interesting bit of info that I’ve been able to garner from my research is that albums from established international acts are released in Malaysia concurrently with their US release dates for example. New artistes like David will depend greatly on the demand and requests for their work that they generate. In David’s case, whether his cd will arrive on our shores sooner rather than later will depend very much on the frequency of requests that he gets at the retailers like Tower Records, MPH etc – which means that if we desire to have David’s debut cd as soon as it’s released in the States we have to lay the groundwork now and start making repeated requests at the music retailers in town and I mean repeated. This will filter back to the record label, which in David’s case is Sony BMG, and alert them to the fact that there is a demand for David’s cd in Malaysia which, hopefully, will prompt them to release the cd here. If you log onto Sony BMG’s local website you will notice that Jordin Spark’s and Blake Lewis’s cds are featured on the front page which means that work by American Idol alumni are considered viable products. So, Angels we have our work cut out for us and we have to be doggedly determined to “pester” the retailers to stock up on David Archuleta. Better yet, call Sony BMG and politely make enquiries about the release date for David’s cd in Malaysia.
P.S. I won’t reveal actual statistics but I was able to glean from a local music executive that Jason Mraz’s single I’m Yours and his album is doing particularly well in Malaysia. Seeing that David is such a huge fan of Mraz and hopes to produce the same type of music, I’m therefore hopeful that his cd will get a good reception as well from music fans in Malaysia. 🙂