x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Virgin tunes in with UAE digital downloads

With CD sales in decline worldwide, Virgin Megastore will launch a digital music download platform this year across the UAE.

Nisreen Shocair, the president of Virgin Megastore in the Middle East, believes that digital downloads are the
Nisreen Shocair, the president of Virgin Megastore in the Middle East, believes that digital downloads are the "next step" for the company. Jefrey E Biteng / Sam Hall

Virgin Megastore will launch a digital music download platform this year across the UAE — the first of its kind in the Middle East.

Music lovers will be able to go online and download tracks straight from the store to a digital device, in a similar manner to the iTunes concept available elsewhere in the world.

Having launched a flagship store in Dubai Mall this week, Nisreen Shocair, the president of Virgin Megastore in the Middle East, believes that digital downloads are the "next step" for the company.

"When the day comes that people don't want CDs any more, there's going to be an alternative at the right price, with the right catalogue," she said. "I mean, do you think people will stop listening to music? They are just going to listen to it differently."

Worldwide CD sales have been in decline for the past decade, having lost out to digital downloads offering music more accessibly and often at lower prices.

In the UAE, sales of CDs have plunged, having been savaged by digital piracy, which is rife in the Middle East.

Singles on Virgin's platform will be priced at Dh3 to Dh5, while albums will come at a discount to the combined value of all the songs on the track list, priced at about Dh30 (US$8).

The website, which will be in English, will include music from Arabic, Indian and Farsi acts, as well as global mainstream artists.

Shoppers will be able to log their bank details into the system so they will not have to re-enter information for each purchase.

"The Middle East used to be five years behind the rest of the world as a trend, but now it's about two years, and as far as digital, they caught up pretty fast," Ms Shocair said.

She said the biggest obstacle to the success of the platform would be in convincing Middle East customers to buy music rather than illegally download.

"The price point has been set at zero because of piracy, so how are you going to get people from zero to pay anything?" she said.

The move into the digital space coincides with a major expansion plan of physical stores across the Middle East that Ms Shocair estimates will cost "upwards" of Dh10 million.

Virgin Megastore is looking to open two stores in Abu Dhabi, one of which will be of similar size to the Dubai Mall store at 2,400 square metres.

"We are looking at Abu Dhabi. It all depends on finding the right location," Ms Shocair said.

Virgin is also expected to open three stores in Cairo, including in Mall of Arabia, Majid Al Futtaim's Mall of Egypt and Al Futtaim's Cairo Festival City.

It will also add three locations in Qatar, where it already has two stores.

The digital platform will launch in the UAE before the end of the year, followed by Egypt.

rjones@thenational.ae