With audio CD/DVD writing features on computers, why would you spend P64.95 for a music album when you can whip one of those loose CDs at the office, and burn that Matsieng CD you borrowed from your colleague? In spite of it being cost-less, ‘frugal’ music collecting is choking the young life out of Botswana’s music industry.
“Pushing 40 000 units off the shelves is currently the highest rate of music album sales a local artist can achieve, but of late, this has been hindered by the rampant sales of counterfeit copies of local albums and DVDs,” said Nkgopolang Tlhomelang, who is the Botswana Musician Union’s (BOMU) outgoing Secretary General.
While their music enjoys radio airplay, and in thousands of personal playlists, ‘It is not uncommon for local artists to sell only 1000 copies of their album,” he said.
“This makes forming a distribution monitoring body, that would enable us to install music sales certification systems to tally the sales of CD, DVD and cassette sales, currently futile,” Tlhomelang said.
“All piracy incidences BOMU has dealt with, were committed by Chinese storeowners,” Tlhomelang says. “We have maintained diplomacy for a while, but now feel its time to challenge the Chinese Embassy and community to intervene, because pirated CD sales cause 70-80 percent market loss, and debt contribution to recording artists.”
Gofaone ‘Goofy’ Mapitse, of Eric Ramco Records, says their distribution department has had occasional run-ins with a couple of undisclosed traders. Just recently, on their way back to Gaborone from distributing the Matsieng album in the northern parts of the country, they found the CD already bootlegged by one of the traders.
“Chinese music retailers,” says Mapitse, “are the biggest buyers and inevitably biggest retailers of local music ‘because they tend to have networks of stores in disparate places across the country, which music will automatically be distributed.’”
Mapitse concedes that what tends to encourage piracy by music retailers is the recording industry’s lack of margins that regulate wholesale prices. “Some buyers refuse prices we set, which include cost recovery, only to be supplied with cheaper pirated goods. Which is not helped by the consumers’ ignorance of the copyright law,” he said.
Eric Ramco Records keeps track of its record sales through basic reconciling of stock, and Mapitse says though they usually try to exceed the 10 000 unit mark, he estimates 70 000 to be Botswana’s gold status, in a calculation that considers Botswana’s buying power.
Mud Hut Records too quantifies their sales in this manner, Mud Hut Records’ manager, Sidney Baitsile, however, points a finger at music lovers, who copy their favourite local musicians albums instead of buying them. “Some have been known to sell copies at P10,” he said.
He argues that Batswana probably perpetrate most of the counterfeiting when compared to music retailers.
“Popular club DJs are often with ‘libraries’ of written music that they swap amongst themselves, and unintentionally, a local artist simply cannot live off music sales,” said Baitsile.
“What we need is for a person found guilty of piracy to be made an example of.” This he says will generate awareness of the copyright law amongst Batswana.
“We do deal with music retailers who include Chinese, and currently we have no reason to question their conduct,” Baitsile said, “but we would cease to do business with them if they are guilty of pirating our goods.”
Tlhomelang says BOMU is optimistic of the copyright law that has been enacted. “The Police Service has ordered copies of the act to be sent to each of their stations. Batswana must keep watch of pirated music and report such cases to the police. Otherwise musicians will continue to compete with false prices that will increasingly stunt the industry’s growth.”