ARTICLE DATE: 05.19.09
According to a study done by the BBI Norwegian School of Management, those who freely download music from file-sharing sites and elsewhere buy ten times more music (yes, they actually pay for it) than people who do not participate in file-sharing systems. In fact, the figure that the report cites for the amount spent by the file-sharing subculture is so high that the record industry doesn’t believe it. Well, I sure do, mainly because of an observation I made back in the late 1990s. And I’ve harped on this observation ever since. This research just confirms my suspicions.
The simple fact is that during the Napster era—a period in which there was no significant musical movement that would trigger any excitement in the business—CD sales increased. As Napster got bigger, sales continued to increase. As Napster was shut down, you could see CD sales decline, and once they put the lid on open file-sharing, the industry went into a tailspin. I never believed this to be a coincidence.
The RIAA and the music industry in general blamed the tailspin on Napster and piracy, harping on the concept of “stealing.” The overlooked fact in all this was that with the advent of national radio syndicates and the niche programming that began to flourish in the ’90s, people were not easily introduced to new music. There were fewer ways to discover bands and music you liked so that you could go buy those CDs in the first place. This coincided with the demise of the disc jockey (a music nut who kept tabs on trends). The record industry was essentially doomed at this moment of change.
With its ability to show and share collections of music, Napster became the ersatz virtual DJ, letting you self-select bands and singers who appealed to your individual taste. You did this by looking at the collections of like-minded individuals using the system. And in many ways, except for the downloading time, it was more efficient than radio since you didn’t have to slog through commercials and could skip a track not to your liking.
No wonder CD sales increased and business was on the upswing. But apparently not a single person working at the decision-making levels of the recording industry understood the sociology or the mechanism—and that’s still the case.—Next: Simple Question >
I ask this simple question: If there’s a band out there whose CD I would buy, how am I supposed to discover this band? Tell me how! Is Rush Limbaugh going to play them?
The current mechanism for discovery is arcane and getting worse by the day, as thousands of incredibly mediocre musicians muddy the water with MySpace pages, free downloads, and Web sites. The worst bands of the old punk-rock era sound like Mozart compared with some of the no-talents flooding the market with their wailing.
The music industry, having painted itself into a corner, has decided to take the easy way out. The labels identify the very few highly promotable acts and pump all their resources into them. Thus we end up with the Britney Spears era. And while these essentially Broadway products do sell CDs and concert tickets, they’re not refining musical taste or helping the market for music as a whole.
So the music industry hopes to survive by suing into oblivion the file-sharers, who are, coincidentally (as mentioned earlier), the only ones supporting the industry by buying CDs. The irony of this is too rich to ignore. It’s just funny, really, kind of like chopping off your legs because you’re tired of their following you around.
Oh, and by the way, back in the ’90s, when Napster was helping CD sales increase, the industry was told a pay-for-downloading model would work, too. They didn’t see how. What a bunch of boneheads.