I’m currently on holiday in Taormina in Sicily for a couple of weeks and though I come here every year (my wife is Sicilian) I never cease to be amazed by just how different the profile of technology adoption is here compared to northern Europe. Just trying to get online over the last couple of weeks has been a case in point.
I had a few pressing work tasks which I needed to do during my stay so I ensured I was well stocked up with credit on my USB modem. Unfortunately the Italian network of my UK mobile operator didn’t seem to have read the script about discounted international data roaming fees and I managed to burn through 35 pounds of credit in 2 and a half days (which included 3 extended ‘help’ line calls – I use the term ‘help’ in the loosest possible sense – and getting a relative to buy more credit in the UK). The fact that the download speed made a 56k modem look like Fiber just added to the pain. Unlike my friends and family in northern Italy, the majority in Sicily don’t have home Internet connections so I have to resort to Internet cafés, the majority of which share one sub standard connection between a couple of dozen computers. However this year I needed to connect my laptop directly and my normal Internet café of choice wouldn’t let me plug in my laptop directly. Finally, I found one with Wi-Fi (just arrived this year) and got online.
It really shouldn’t be this difficult just to get online in the 2009. Which got me thinking about the implications of these sort of technology hurdles on European digital content strategies. Taormina is no decrepit backwater, it’s a sophisticated and prosperous town, but the Internet just doesn’t feature that highly in most people’s priorities here. Life functions perfectly well without it. And sure, the Italians love their mobiles, but most of the people I know here use their phones to talk and text, not to download digital content.
So how do you reach would-be digital content buyers here? You might argue that they don’t need to, that they’re still buying CDs and DVDs. I’m afraid that not many people I know here buy much music anymore. There are a couple of hardcore aficionados who I normally rely on for tips for new sounds, but even one of those (who’s actually an ex-minor Italian pop star) has stopped buying CDs. Where’s he getting his music from? He’s one of the few who has broadband at home and he got it mainly to download music and video from file sharing networks. So file sharing plays the familiar role of the killer app for driving broadband adoption.
None of this is new of course, Europe is a diverse region of technology adoption, but what my experiences here have reminded me of is that headline figures about technology adoption hide the fact that sub regional adoption trends vary massively. It’s all well and good saying that Italian broadband penetration is x%, but what is more important to understand is how adoption varies between Milan and towns in the south. It’s simply not realistic to expect consumers in so many areas of Europe to be ready yet for paying for digital content. They are however, easy and quick converts to file sharing. We could debate the pros and cons of that equation, but it’s a fact. Better to spend the time deploying compelling free and ad supported services which are genuine immediate alternatives to illegal downloading.