A Chinese pop star’s ambition to be the world’s first musician to sell one billion downloads is the reason behind an unlikely collaboration between a pop star’s dreams and a nascent Irish dotcom company’s ambition. Dubbed China’s Whitney Houston, Wei Wei
is aiming to set a world record by selling more than one billion downloads to mobiles from her http://weiwei.mobi site, designed by a Dublin-based Internet firm, by the end of 2008.
Beautiful and well connected (she’s reportedly on first name terms of several of China’s politburo), label-less Wei Wei released her latest album, Wei Wei 20 X 20 Celebration Collection (it marks her 20 years in showbiz), exclusively on her website, designed specially to be mobile-phone friendly.
The 34 year old singer decision to shun traditional CDs and download stores like iTunes (the album was later made available at iTunes) for her latest release was helped by her being chosen to sing at the opening ceremonies of next summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing. “This will be one of the world's biggest-ever media events.”
“Accessing the internet from mobile phones is the future of the internet and allows me to reach my older fans as well as the younger generation who use mobile phones much more than PCs for accessing the Internet,” said Wei Wei in an email.
Designed by Dublin-based dotcom firm dotMobi, the .mobi domain makes websites more suited to mobile phone using music fans, says Vance Hedderel, director of communications at mTLD Top Level Domain Limited, dotMobi’s parent company. “Sites built using the .mobi domain can be accessed from most internet-enabled mobile phone, no matter which operator the user is subscribed to.”
“That means an artist like Wei Wei can ensure her material is available to the widest possible global audience without restrictions. End users don't have to be tied to an operator's portal to get the music they want -- assuming that the music they want is available on an operator's portal -- and they can be sure that the money is going directly to the artist, who can use those profits to make more material available.”
Press material surrounding the Wei Wei release described Wei Wei as “China's biggest music star” will surely be refuted by more recent arrivistes like Liu Yifei, winner of last year’s hugely popular Supergirl reality TV pop show. She's no longer top of China's pop scene yet Wei Wei’s prices are premium: songs like the Red Flower and Welcome to Beijing cost US$4 per download. Mobile phone ring tones adapted from tunes like See You 2008 cost US$3. Songs on itunes typically cost US$0.99 to download.
“Yes, they’re expensive,” conceded Wei Wei manager Bjorn Bertoft. “But Wei Wei is a hugely popular star.” Shooting to public prominence after winning the Young Singers contest on national TV in 1986, Wei Wei has been China’s favourite face at large sporting events, singing at the opening of 1991 Asia Games in Beijing and performing a duet with famously randy Spanish pop star Julio Iglesias in at the East Asia Games in Shanghai two years later. In her 20-year career, Hohot-born Wei Wei has sold more than 200 million tapes and CDs and has recorded hundreds of songs, both in English and Mandarin.
Famous for her interpretations of Chinese songs like Telling to the Spring and Sparkling Sky (she also covered Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Changes Everything), Wei Wei has ambitions beyond China, a market with its own copyright and piracy pitfalls for musicians. The woman who claims Swedish group ABBA was her inspiration to learn English, moved to Stockholm in 1999 to begin an assault on the English language market. The move was described by the artist at the time as a way “to capitalise on the growing global influence of Chinese popular culture.”
Wei Wei flies to Beijing at least once a month for concert and TV appearances - she also sang at the start of the Beijing marathon and the closing of the Nanjing Crawfish festival last year - but records in Sweden. Her 20X20 album was polished by fabled production team Johan Åberg and Robban Habolin, writers/producers for Cher and Christina Aguilera. The Inner Mongolia native spent an hour signing autographs at the dotMobi booth during the international telecommunications conference, 3GSM World Congress, in Barcelona in February. Based in Stockholm since 1999 with four sons from her estranged marriage to a Swedish-American husband,
Selling direct-to-consumer downloads rather than CDs helps curb music piracy, says Wei Wei. “This is a major problem in my home country… This is an important shift in music history. In China, the market for CDs was over a long time ago. I am going to concentrate solely on digital technology,” says Wei Wei.
Her other claim is even more intriguing. “It's also an environmentally friendly way of distributing my music.” So no more plastic CDs then? Certainly, the global music industry has been struggling to adjust itself to a post-CD world
. Large music companies at first tried to suppress online music sharing sites like Napster before eventually selling content on licensed on line traders like iTunes and Realplayer.
dotMobi is the informal name for mTLD Top Level Domain, Ltd, a joint venture company based in Dublin, Ireland with offices in Washington, DC and Beijing. Sites and Internet services operating around .mobi are optimized for use by mobile devices. The company is hoping that it can create critical mass by tapping into China’s 400-million strong mobile user base, the largest in the world. The standard has the backing of leading mobile operators and network equipment makers as well as Internet content providers, including Ericsson, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung.
Working with Wei Wei opens doors in China, one of dotMobi's five largest markets. In the early part of 2008 the company’s Beijing office plans to unveil content directory to make it easy to find mobile content that works on mobile phones, and a device database to make developing mobile applications easier and less expensive.
Other musicians are following Wei Wei’s lead. Independent artists Tila Tequila and Jennie Walker have recently also built .mobi sites. “Having weiwei.mobi has been a very good demonstration of what is possible,” says Hedderel.
Wei Wei and FC Barcelona soccer heroes Messi, Deco, Márquez and Puyol give a gentlemen's salute to female soccer players with "Go-Girl-Go (Fly With Me)", a theme song and a music video for the Women’s World Cup which China’s hosts in September. “Wei Wei is a national icon in China, familiar to more than a billion people,” claimed an early dotMobi press release. Hardly. But familiar to enough of people to carry the company into the Chinese market.More ...