While the music industry death march over the past decade has been agonizing to watch and experience, I never thought it would come to this. According to an article titled "Swan Song" by Charles Blow in the New York Times, between piracy (illegal file sharing) and the rise in music streaming (Pandora), hardly anyone is buying music anymore in any format:
The speed at which this industry is coming undone is utterly breathtaking.Some of you may remember a time when people would listen to the radio for new music (in the early to mid-80s, WLIR was the best!), hear something they really like, and then track down that song at their local record store. Listening led to buying. No more.
First, piracy punched a big hole in it. Now music streaming — music available on demand over the Internet, free and legal — is poised to seal the deal.
The problem is that if people can get the music they want for free, why would they ever buy it, or even steal it? They won’t. According to a March study by the NPD Group, a market research group for the entertainment industry, 13- to 17-year-olds “acquired 19 percent less music in 2008 than they did in 2007.” CD sales among these teenagers were down 26 percent and digital purchases were down 13 percent.
And a survey of British music fans, conducted by the Leading Question/Music Ally and released last month, found that the percentage of 14- to 18-year-olds who regularly share files dropped by nearly a third from December 2007 to January 2009. On the other hand, two-thirds of those teens now listen to streaming music “regularly” and nearly a third listen to it every day.
This is part of a much broader shift in media consumption by young people. They’re moving from an acquisition model to an access model.
Even if they choose to buy the music, the industry has handicapped its ability to capitalize on that purchase by allowing all songs to be bought individually, apart from their albums. This once seemed like a blessing. Now it looks more like a curse.
In previous forms, you had to take the bad with the good. You may have only wanted two or three songs, but you had to buy the whole 8-track, cassette or CD to get them. So in a sense, these bad songs help finance the good ones. The resulting revenue provided a cushion for the artists and record companies to take chances and make mistakes. Single song downloads helped to kill that.
(I guess I'm part of the problem...I listen to Pandora at work...but I'm still conditioned to follow the old model: in the last week or so, I heard about 5-6 new songs from CDs that I'm going to find and buy.)
Here is the real kicker...
A study last year conducted by members of PRS for Music, a nonprofit royalty collection agency, found that of the 13 million songs for sale online last year, 10 million never got a single buyer and 80 percent of all revenue came from about 52,000 songs. That’s less than one percent of the songs.Jeez...I guess those of us who are still purchasing music need to be buying a whole lot more, so those ska or reggae albums you were thinking about buying at some point down the line...get 'em now! Save recorded music!
(Can't we get some sort of stimulus package going here to rescue the music industry and change people's music purchasing habits? Shouldn't the government send out $10 vouchers to everyone in the US that could be used toward the purchase of a CD, LP, or digital download of a whole album? They've bailed out the banks and Wall Street, as well as "Cash for Clunkers" to help Detroit...and god knows they've wasted taxpayer money on all kinds of crazy crap over the years...trillions in Iraq, anyone?)