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Meet the music publishers: Interview with David Alexander of Sheer Publishing in Africa

Once a week, we are featuring interviews with music publishers across to globe to gain an insight into the role, what it involves, why they do it and how they came into the business. This time we caught up with David Alexander of Sheer Publishing in Africa.  

How did you get into music publishing?

I ran a record label for a number of years and despite having great artists and great recordings we battled to keep the business running. Many of the factors that influenced our impact in the marketplace were out of our control – the narrowly owned distribution channels and the problems with payola that our country experienced at that time. I wanted to stay in the music business but to run a business that I could control the entire value chain – end to end. In addition the MP3 technology was impacting on the record business and I wanted to move away from a business model that relied on sunset technology.    

What concerns do you have in your market?

We view our market as the African Continent and we are faced by infrastructural challenges – some as big as electricity and lack of broadband and some as simple as high costs of travel and communication. We also have a broad range of CMOs on the Continent – some pockets of excellence but many facing challenges due to national regulation or internal politics. Our main concern is that even with the large size of the market we have to take into consideration the spending power of the average customer which is very low.  

What’s a typical day like for you?

The best thing about my day is that there is no typical day! While I oversee all aspects of the business I have a great team who focus on their particular area – Copyright, Royalties or Creative. My main focus is keeping the team motivated and engaged and making sure they are delivering value to their clients. I also love the facts that some days I am in studio, others on a movie set or at an advertising agency discussing a brief. I love travelling on the Continent and meeting the amazingly talented writers Africa is home to. Right now we are working on the Oscar Pistorius Trial programming which is really interesting.  

What is your relationship with your local collective management organisation?

Sheer Publishing has close links with the collective management organisations (CMOs) based all over the Continent. Sheer Publishing is also a direct member of SAMRO & NORM, MCSK and COSON, the copyright CMOs in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria respectively. From a value perspective the South African societies are the largest at present but I can foresee a time when the Nigerian Copyright industries flourish and their value exceeds that of South Africa. We believe that these 3 CMOs are working hard to collect and distribute royalties and that they are addressing the needs of their members and our involvement with them at all levels is to assist them and our writers in getting better value for the use of their works.  

Any legislation coming up in your market?

The Government in South Africa is currently re-drafting three Bills that affect Copyright. The Traditional Knowledge Amendment Bill, The Performers Protection Amendment Bill and the Amendment to the Copyright Act. Parliament has insisted that as the three refer to each other that they are presented together and we expect this to happen in the 2nd half of 2017.

Of concern is the Traditional Knowledge amendment Bill which may affect the Music Publishing industry directly but we are also affected by the poor drafting of the Performers Protection Act governing the so-called “needletime” rights which has had a negative impact on the Record Industry and a knock-on effect on the Music Publishing Industry.

How do you see your market evolving over the next ten years?

Right now the most value in digital comes from RBTs (Ring Back Tones) but this is evolving as iTunes entered the African market at the end of 2012 and is in a growth phase. I expect there will be radical changes in availability and speed of broadband and the cost of data allowing the entry of streaming services into the marketplace. If priced right this is a game changer for the Continent as piracy is estimated at 70% - 135%.

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