MP3 music seller Ly Bunleang downloads a song to a customer’s phone at his stall on Street 51 in Phnom Penh.
A colony of ramshackle lean-to shacks has sprouted outside the faded yellow walls of Phnom Penh’s Preah Sisowath high school. The long row of lopsided wooden structures may not look promising, but here one can find everything a Cambodian high school student needs, from fried bananas to Hello Kitty notebooks.
A long line of students is waiting at the stall run by Ly Bunleang, 28, who at 7.30am on a recent Monday is already hammering away at the clunky computer in front of him.
From morning until night Bunleang is busy downloading songs, karaoke videos, movies, games, pictures and mobile phone software for a variety of customers. The majority of his clients, he says, are young students with expensive, modern mobile phones.
Two years ago, Bunleang began selling MP3 downloads, at first just helping out with a friend’s MP3 sales stall. Realizing he could make far more money selling songs to students than he ever had working at Pencil, he gave up his supermarket job.
“Downloading tunes for mobile phone users is an easy job to make money from and it doesn’t require much capital,” Bunleang said.
Downloading one MP3 song onto your mobile phone costs 1,000 riel at Bunleang’s shop. He offers a variety of buy-more, pay-less deals in an attempt to distinguish his business from the plethora of other MP3 download services around.
Bunleang estimates he makes an average of $20 per day.
“A lot people do the same work as me so there is strong competition in the market,” he says. “We have to give the best services to clients and persuade them to come again.”
All around the schools and markets of Phnom Penh, thousand of battered computers have been set up. They are, in effect, mini music supermarkets, offering Cambodians the chance to get their favorite music on their mobile phone.
Each stall usually has a small crowd of students around it busily selecting songs to download.
“I download songs to my telephone for me to listen to for pleasure at school but my phone is also my MP3 player, so if I listen to music in the evenings, I listen to my phone,” 18-year-old student Tan Kompheak said while waiting for a song to download at Bunleang’s stall.
“It’s not just me – my friends all like to listen to songs on their phones,” he added.
Mobile phone shops are also getting in on this growing market. When you buy a new phone at Monivong Phone Shop you can have songs put on it for free.
“We are kind of in competition [with road-side downloaders] but some music downloads are not professional,” said the store’s owner who declined to be named.
Downloading songs onto high-end mobile phones has become hugely popular over the past two years with many tune downloaders reporting that business is booming.
However, many newer phones enable users to download music themselves, for example through Bluetooth services.
Beung Boeun, a computer repairman in Phnom Penh, said he had never paid to download songs to his phone as he could convert music into MP3 files on his own computer then transfer them to his phone.
“I never spend money downloading songs to my phone. But not many people know enough to download music to their phones themselves,” he said.
Top 10 downloads on iTunes Music Store (April)
1. 4 Minutes, Madonna
6. Love In This Club, Usher
2. Bleeding Love, Leona Lewis
7. Sexy Can I, Ray J
3. Lollipop, Lil Wayne
8. Pocketful of Sunshine, Natasha Bedingfield
4. No Air, Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown
9. Touch My Body, Mariah Carey
5. Say, John Mayer
10. Forever, Chris Brown