Changing music industry landscape

Chicago Tribune pop music critic Greg Kot had an interesting piece this weekend on the way technology is changing the music industry by changing the way people acquire and listen to music. Two points he makes early in the article drew my eye:

"Album sales have plummeted in three of the last four years; so far this year 265 million albums have been sold compared to 299 million last year, an 11 percent decline," while "Digital album sales have jumped to 11 million from 3.4 million, a whopping 226 percent spike."

This tells me two things, and the first isn't something the music industry wants to hear: People are buying less music because your product stinks. Specifically, they don't want to buy an entire album of garbage to possess one hit song. When they had no legal choice, that meant they downloaded the songs they wanted, for free, and left the rest. The second thing? Given a legal option, people are choosing to buy digital copies of songs, hence the tremendous jump in digital sales. However, because your overall product is still poor, overall sales are suffering.

Giving people the options they want in terms of delivery and media is a good start, reacting to a problem you had years ago. Now, if you want to rescue your dying industry, give them better product. Sure, you'll argue that you give people what they want, and that there are more artists in more genres than ever before. That's true, to a point. But people buy that to which they're exposed. Keep pushing one-hit pop stars on them, and that's what they'll buy. Cultivate career artists, and you'll build loyal customers who keep coming back for more.

This is something I'd love to see Chris Anderson at the Long Tail delve into: Are the pop music charts appreciably different these days, with more artists charting over the course of a year than in past decades? I'd guess they are, because it doesn't seem as if you have artists who spin three or four successful singles off an album any more. Artists would likely cringe at the comparison, but it's like the building of any other brand. If there is no trust that quality will continue, there is no loyalty and thus no assurance of future sales. Why buy the album when you can get the hit song for (something close to) free?


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