Archive for March, 2007
CD sales up, down, irrelevant

The large corporate music industry has been whining to all the major media outlets that its CD sales are down. Accordingly numerous stories have been written in the last month about the trials and tribulations of the industry, whose dreadful loss of CD sales hasn’t been made up by the sale of individual songs.

First – I note that the transition (back) from albums to songs is touted as a bad thing, somehow. This, I really don’t get. The vast majority of commercial albums produced in the last forty years have not been “albums”, but collections of (a) hits, (b) a few noncommercial interesting songs, and (c) several filler songs, in varying proportions. These artists were being forced to produce albums when they wanted to produce songs. It’s as if every short story writer were being forced to write massively long novels.

That’s actually not a good model for creativity or quality artistic production. Why would anyone bemoan this transition? The more viable economic models and methods of distribution there are, the better. Now, artists can produce songs, longer pieces, albums, etc., according to their degree of inspiration.

It really bugs me when people (read: middlemen businesses) get so wedded to particular models that they act as if those models are the natural, One True Way, despite manifest evidence to the contrary. I’ve grown used to this absurdity in terms of the music industry thinking they have a god-given right to sell music as if it were on degradable media to consumers who do not have quality reproduction material — to force us all to live in the 1950s, in other words. But you’d think that in at least one area, they would welcome what is obviously good?

Second – it may all be just so much BS anyway. Yes, the major record industries are reporting CD sales down (and their numbers have proven oh-so-trustworthy in the past), but Harold Feld at Public Knowledge is reporting on information from CD Baby that sales are up — for independent musicians. In other words, long tail economics are at play here: The top part of the curve may be flattening out to some extent (and Feld reminds of us of some of the reasons that the late 1980s/early 1990s were a golden age for CD sales) but music overall is more a part of our lives than ever.