Music lovers across the Emirates will be able to buy CDs and pay for them online through a new portal from EMI Music Arabia and Souq.com.
In the first launch of its kind in the UAE, the EMI music store on Souq.com, the country's largest online marketplace, offers 6,000 albums at an average cost of Dh50 (US$13.61) before delivery fees.
Despite strong global growth in digital sales, Abhijit Mitra, the chairman and managing director for EMI in the Middle East and North Africa, said physical sales of music still made up the about 70 per cent of the total worldwide.
"While digital download is a buzz word and surely the future, physical sales is still so substantial you cannot afford to ignore it," said Mr Mitra. "In the Middle East, I would say that the percentage of physical sales is much higher than 70 per cent."
EMI and Souq.com, with more than a million unique users a month, are trying to gain a significant foothold in a market where piracy is still endemic and digital downloads are eating into physical sales. Globally, music retailers' sales have suffered as websites, such as Amazon.com, offer albums to consumers at lower prices due to lower overheads.
EMI Music Arabia, a wholly owned subsidiary of EMI Music, also wants to take advantage of the market for physical purchase of CDs in stores across the UAE, where many malls do not have specialist music stores.
Currently, many expatriate consumers in the Middle East order CDs online from retailers in the US and Europe, paying a premium for the delivery costs.
EMI and Souq.com will deliver a CD in three to four days if the album is in stock at the record label's Jebel Ali warehouse. If the album is not in stock, it will be delivered in an average of 11 days from EMI's central inventory in the Netherlands.
CDs will be delivered by courier, entailing delivery fees of Dh16 and making a CD more expensive than in a local retail store.
Nonetheless, "it will be much faster than any other means, and the shipping charges will be much less," Mr Mitra said.
The online store includes releases from EMI Music, Warner Music and Walt Disney Records, and independent music labels distributed by EMI.
The store will also be available in Arabic and includes EMI Music Arabia's collection of Arab artists and music from the Middle East.
Consumers will be able to pay with cash on delivery, by credit card, cheque or bank transfer.
"People here are scared about putting their details on a site, but even then some people don't have a credit card, so we are trying to get around that," Mr Mitra said. "You sit at home, order it online and you pay in cash" on delivery.
The agreement between EMI and Souq.com is not exclusive, the online retailer will be able to sign up other record labels, such as Sony and Universal Music Group.
"Obviously as a consumer you want the whole offering available to you, and we completely understand that," Mr Mitra said. "A consumer doesn't care whether Coldplay is on EMI or Sony. They want to get Coldplay."
Although still in its infancy, the digital music space is growing in the region as companies look to provide online stores that can replicate the global success of Apple's iTunes, which is not currently available in the UAE.
EMI is also working with the UAE's telecommunications providers to offer a digital download platform within the next 12 months, Mr Mitra said.
Saudi-owned Music Master launched a digital platform in February to sell music for Dh3 a track and Dh30 for an album.