No one will dispute that the number one cause of the weak Arabic record industry is piracy, but with Arabic digital content on the rise, it looks as if Social Media might just be the way out for record companies and consumers alike.
Regional giants like Music Master, SIDI, Vanilla, Megastar, Rotana, Abdool studios and Founoon all have one thing in common (other than the fact they all record music), which is major losses due to piracy. When you take a country like Lebanon which is considered a major source of musicians in the region, and know that it suffers 70% piracy rates as stated by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) since the early 2000′s you can get an idea of how serious the situation is.
Conclusion: Arab countries don’t care much about fighting piracy, and it looks like they never will.
Let’s face it, we Arabs don’t like paying for music unless it’s live. That’s how singers and song writers have been surviving in the Middle East, live performances, and most recently from commercial appearances that are quite annoying most of the time.
That leaves record companies in the Middle East with a serious dilemma, that being their very young and tech savvy consumer base is getting it’s music online, but not through the record labels.
If you take a simple look at two of the major online illegal music websites 6rbtop.com and 6rb.com visitor numbers compared to AlJazeera.net with a recent estimated total of 5 million unique visitors monthly, the rogue music industry treads dangerously behind.
Just to put things into perspective these websites get traffic similar to global successes of the like of Blip.fm (shown in Green in the graph) which provides a free music sharing experience with a social twist on a global scale.
Websites such as 6rb and 6rbtop are putting companies like Arabic Recorded Music better known as ARM out of business, as it silently closed it’s doors during April 2009.
Record labels in the region literally have nothing to lose at this point, their content is making them 20% of it’s potential at current piracy rates, so why not provide a free alternative to piracy and attempt to make money without making fools out of themselves.
As the rest of world witnesses a cautious adoption of online music distribution best exemplified by Radiohead when they opted to distribute their 2007 album in rainbows via the internet asking listeners to pay what they think it’s worth instead of through shops. Gorillaz’ latest album Plastic Beach allowed fans to listen to it for free on The Guardian’s website providing additional online games and content to users who actually bought the album.
Some go to the extreme of saying the traditional music band is gone that with record labels not being able to monetize on the new and improved distribution channels. Online companies like Pandora, Last.fm and Blip.fm are changing the way music is consumed by providing a Social Media context to it, and many other websites like ThePirateBay.org facilitate sharing music files amongst others.
Rotana Media has finally embraced social media and in a pitiful attempt to push their old school ‘pay money for everything’ agenda, they created Alboome (meaning my album) the region’s first Facebook Application to share ‘album song titles’ (not the songs themselves) and purchase music videos with friends and family.
Alboome’s Facebook application does little to enrich the music viewing experience, other than provide an online catalog inside Facebook to Rotana’s official products. It does allow users to engage in activities that earn them points with which they are able to purchase more music within a social context, but other than that it totally sucks.
Now what really ticks me off, is the fact users can get similar music for free (legally) through official Rotana Media affiliates such as Musicnation.me!
Record labels need to start realizing we live in a rich region that has demands, so why not start giving us what we want, how we want it for a change?