Lukewarm response marks under-prepared digital content market

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Contestants of 2012 Vietnam Idol wearing T-shirts that read "˜listening (to music) with awareness' in support of a campaign calling for the public to turn their back on online piracy during their performance at a final round of the annual music competition in October last year

Latest figures from the Vietnam Center for Protection of Music Copyright and digital content business MV Corporation show that nearly VND20 million (US$954) was collected in online music downloading fees by seven local websites during a two-month pilot project that started on November 1 last year.

Given that every month, sales from call-waiting ringtones, a very small part of the digital music sector, records a turnover of VND50 billion ($2.38 million), the aforementioned takings are a flop.

It is a huge disappointment for copyright owners who were happy that they would be able to earn some money from their works when the pilot project was announced.

No one could imagine that Zing Mp3, the country's leading online music provider with nearly ten million members, collected just VND6 million ($286.2). The second largest site, Nhaccuatui, took in just VND3 million, which was even lower than that of the newbie, Keeng, which got some VND8 million.

Overall, November ended with a little more than VND15 million collected, and December saw sales of less than VND5 million.

Industry insiders say the figures are understandable, because the websites' users have been able to download music for free. A variety of downloading software allows them to get whatever song they like.

But, more importantly, the websites' owners have not really taken any measures that are bold enough to force their users to pay for what they get. Some even offer special software allowing users to download songs from their servers like Zing Mp3, Nhaccuatui, and Socbay 4U.

Actually, there is no reason for online music providers to drive their users away by restricting access to resources, because page views and traffic is their raison d'être high traffic and views will help them get more lucrative advertising contracts. Moreover, unlike music download and listening fees, all advertising turnover will go into their pockets without being shared with other parties.

Zing Mp3 charges VND63 million ($3,000) a week for a standard ads banner. The charge is double for a rich media ad a kind of ad with highly interactive contents. Meanwhile, Nhac Vui, another website ranking much lower than Zing Mp3 on popular lists, also charges a banner up to VND41 million ($1,955) a week.

MV Corp General Director Do Manh Tuan said even though they were aware that it was not easy to collect fees from online music downloads, it turned out to be much more difficult than expected when they started the pilot project.

Tuan is right. It is difficult because both users and music providers, who earn the most profits in the sector at the moment, are yet to want to change how things are run.

There is still a long way to go before Vietnam can begin listening to music with "awareness.

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