‘Surviving in the tiny domestic market is terribly hard unless you turn out to be a Lucie Bílá or a Michal David,’ Bonton’s Lešek Wronka says. ‘All the others are scraping by. Show business doesn’t work.’
In April, a fourth strong player arrived on the Czech digital music scene. Following Apple’s iTunes, the Supraphonline store and the startup of the MusicJet streaming service, digital music sales were launched in the Bontonline store by Bontonland, the largest domestic chain of music, film and computer game stores.
Just under a year ago, the entrepreneur and producer Lešek Wronka, who discovered, for example, the singer Ewa Farná and who is also in charge of the Anděl music awards, became the owner of Bontonland. In an interview with Czech Position ahead of the launch of Bontonland’s new digital music service, Wronka also spoke about what he sees as the deplorable state of the Czech music industry.
According to Wronka, the industry itself is responsible for the current crisis: “The offerings are bad; artists don’t create much and publishers don’t invest. Everyone expects rewards without effort.” Wronka says he would certainly not recommend a singing career to his daughter.
On digital sales
Q: Why did you decide in May 2011 to enter Bontonland? I expect that the biggest chain of music stores was not doing particularly well at the time?
WRONKA: Whether Bontonland was doing well or not is very relative: Bontonland faithfully reflects developments on the music and film market.The company’s year-on-year drops reflected the year-on-year drops of the industry as a whole. The development of physical media sales, though, is demonized in the Czech Republic. Some people talk about a 20-30% decrease.That’s nonsense. Physical media sales fell last year by only 7%. It is the prices that are falling primarily.
If Bontonland had in the past Kč 300 million and now only Kč 260 million, it’s not at all because fewer CDs were sold but primarily because the average price was different. I’ve been working for years in the area of show business. When I bought Bontonland last year, it was the logical culmination of my activities. I have an agencythat represents and creates artists. I simply wanted to add retail to reinforce distribution. Today, I can offer artists coaching, management, CD publication and sales.
Q:When did you decide to start the digital music store?
WRONKA: When you look at how our business is developing today,there’s nothing else you can do. We have no intention, though, of building a competitor for iTunes or some other mega-companies. We simply want to offer our customers optionsthat we have not had in our portfolio before.... [Bontonline launched in early April] and it will be the biggest internet store in the field of music in the Czech Republic.
We figured that it probably makes no sense selling Brazilian performers or folk creations from Norway.We’re restricting the offer to the type of music that is regularly sold here. We’re offering approximately half a million tunes, which corresponds to the portfolio that we have in our physical media offerings. We want to be comparable price-wise to legal servers, stores and the like. We tried in all the main stores offering music online to select the best, so that our service would be first and foremost as simple as possible for users, and at the same time be linked visually to the current Bontonland e-shop.
Q:In recent times several services offering digital music have appeared in the Czech Republic.Why only now,ten years after iTunes?
WRONKA: There have been attempts here already. For example, the server ilegalne.cz appeared in the past. Only it was complicated and the record companies had high demands on protectionof the MP3 digital formats, which was costly and not attractive enough for the user because they couldn’t share music. What’s more, they could easily download free music illegally. Today, a store like that could be built relatively cheaply, and I thinkwe’ll be bursting at the seams with them soon.In addition, all internet servers will have to transform gradually into legal services under pressure fromthe International Federation of the Phonographic Industry(IFPI), etc.
Q:Will you be selling music in Bontonline without DRM anti-pirating protection?
WRONKA: Yes.D igital tunes from us will contain information, though,about who bought itand a transaction number. If the tune in question appears on some illegal server, it will be clear who uploaded it. The content suppliers demand that of us.
Q:Have you calculated how many tunes you will have to sell every month for the launch of the new service to make sense?
WRONKA: We don’t have to sell anything. The investment was programmed in advance. Due to the factthat we also sell physical media,this product is more a sort of bonus for our customers. If it turns out that the product is successful, we plan further investment. Obviously, we can’t sell 10 tunes a month — that would be absurd — but at the same time we’re not compelled to sell thousands. We didn’t build Bontonline out of nothing.
Q:Why should people buy music from you and not from iTunes?
WRONKA: We have steady customerswho are used to buying physical media from us. We inform them about what’s new via our e-mail serviceand they are able to navigate through our pages. The things that people like from usthey can find a lot easier on Bontonline than on iTunes. What’s more, oniTunes you’ll find almost no Czech show business,certainly not a comprehensive offer. After all, this giant isn’t interested whether someone apart from Tomáš Klus is doing anything here.