The musicians of today, especially those from developing parts of the world, barely make anything from their recorded work and have increasingly become reliant on live performances for their incomes. While this is not a phenomenon which is unique to developing parts of the world, the more widespread adoption of eCommerce in other parts of the globe has allowed online music stores in those countries to flourish and allow music lovers to at least pay for some of the music that they listen to. In developing countries such as Zimbabwe, where the online economy itself is still trying to find its footing, the concept of buying even digital music online is still as alien as that of buying, say, a hat from the same. Here I will explore what it would actually take for one to start and run a successful online music store in such environments.

Collaborate with musicians

It is inadvisable to try to start a country-specific online music store without the blessing of the local music community and industry. There are many ways in which you can collaborate with artists and other industry stakeholders besides you proposing to sell copies of their work at a profit.

Getting as many members of the industry on board as early on as possible will allow your new music store to be more extensive than it otherwise would have been with limited numbers of participating artists. Your partnerships with these artists can go even further than this. For instance, one of the best ways of promoting a new music platform or store is making arrangements with popular artists for them to release their new tracks or, better still, their highly anticipated new albums exclusively on your platform for certain periods of time.

Advertising

There are several ways in which an online music store can be promoted. For one, it can be treated just like any other website or app and be promoted similarly. This will usually entail buying online ads (e.g. Facebook and Google ones) which will be finely tuned to target the people most likely to purchase from your platform. Other possible marketing channels include the use of social media and blogs which focus on music or technology. One of the most foolproof ways of marketing this kind of platform is simply getting the artists whose music that you are carrying, to ask their fans to buy their work which is being sold on your site.

Revenue models

Gone are the days of creating an entire album just so that you could put it all on a CD and then sell all of it as a packaged deal. Nowadays buying an entire album should only be an option with your service’s users being allowed to buy individual song tracks if they so wish.

If the early success stories of digital music retail are anything to go by, people respond well to standardized/uniform pricing where all songs (or albums) on the platform go for the same price. Unfortunately, since you would usually also have to hold on to a fixed percentage of all artists’ earnings in such arrangements, some end up feeling justifiably powerless and discontented in how their music is being prized and distributed. Optionally you can allow copyright owners to determine their own prices upon which you can then either add your own mark-up or collect a percentage commission.

Choosing a platform

There are basically two major options to choose from when deciding what form your music platform will take: a website or a mobile app. While the latter can have more functionality and can also come with offline functionality and Digital Rights Management (anti-piracy) features, websites can be accessed via virtually any kind of device which can access the web.

With websites, you also don’t have the additional burden of trying to convince potential clients to first download your app before they can access your store—which is a good thing since this can be a hurdle that ultimately breaks your business. Off course you can always implement your platform via both a website and mobile apps but in cases where your budget is too limited to do both well at the same time, remember that websites tend to have several advantages over apps.

Build with your target market in mind

Be it an app or website, you usually have to verify the user’s provided contact details before you can sign them up. Try to stick to SMS as more people have access to it. If you force people to use email, you would lose a lot of potential users/customers while trying to familiarize them with email instead of getting them to buy from your platform.

One of the most often overlooked problems of eCommerce in Africa is also that of payment methods. Ambitious entrepreneurs often try to expand their customer bases across borders and inadvertently end up reducing their pool of already limited potential customers by only supporting payment methods such as VISA and Mastercard which often tend to be relatively rare in their home markets.

Dealing with piracy

The battle against piracy is one that can never be completely or truly won. While you must not rest on your laurels and let copyright violators do what they will with the copyrighted material entrusted to you by creators, sometimes an excessive obsession with copyright protection can actually do more damage to your platform and business than piracy itself ever could. Take for example the DRM (digital rights management) techniques usually used to prevent or reduce incidences of piracy: these are almost always obstructive and there are many complaints that they ruin the user experience.

At the end of the day, there is a strong likelihood that an annoying enough DRM implementation will end up convincing your customers that pirated content has fewer hassles than the legitimately obtained kind (especially if the latter comes with protections that make it more difficult to use). Always remember that there are many compelling arguments to the fact that sometimes piracy exists not because people prefer free stuff but rather because it is usually the most convenient and accessible way for them to obtain that stuff.