Top of the K-pops: Korean musicians must export or starve

From The Economist:

SY (pictured above, also known as Park Jae-sang) is having the time of his life. On August 12th at a stadium in Seoul, the rap star’s concert felt like the only party in town. He entertained 30,000 fans for almost four hours. And this veteran of the South Korean charts has suddenly become popular in the West, since the video for his song “Gangnam Style”, in which he rides an imaginary horse around a posh part of Seoul, went viral on YouTube. The track even hit number one on the iTunes dance chart in Finland.

Korean pop (known as K-pop to fans) is turning into an export success. Groups such as Super Junior and 2NE1 now sell millions of CDs and concert tickets in other parts of Asia. As K-pop zooms up the foreign charts, share prices of leading labels, such as SM Entertainment, have soared too.

But the outlook at home is less rosy. With the world’s fastest broadband connections, Koreans have embraced downloading. This in itself is not a problem, but the way they do it is.

In other countries, many music-lovers still pay for downloads, through the likes of Apple’s iTunes shop. Fans typically shell out at least 99 cents per track (and more in countries such as Japan and Britain). Of this, 70% goes to music labels and artists.

In South Korea, the market works differently. Subscription-based services, which allow the listener to rent music, are extremely popular. For a period of one month fans of rock and pop music pay a fee of around 9,000 won ($8) for 150 tracks. Such services have helped to drive overall music sales to 430 billion won in 2011.

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