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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Holiday changes

Here's an excerpt from Greg Kot's year-end round-up on music in the Chicago Tribune:

HERE'S THE MESSAGE the record industry sent music lovers just as the holidays approached: DROP DEAD.

With compact-disc sales tanking for the third time in four years (down 10 percent so far from 2004), the major labels got increasingly desperate in 2005. Sony-BMG began encoding CDs with copy-protection software to limit copying of the discs. But the software exposed consumers' computers to Internet viruses, and Sony BMG had to recall millions of the infected CDs.

The $6.5 million public-relations disaster was the latest black eye for an industry that sees Internet file-sharing as a threat to its existence, rather than a doorway to creating a new business model that would enable artists and record companies to reach more listeners than ever. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents more than 1,450 companies, says there are 900 million unsanctioned music files on the Internet. In an attempt to quash that thriving underground music community, the federation and the Recording Industry Association of America have filed 19,000 lawsuits worldwide against peer-to-peer file sharers around the world over the last two years.

All of which belies that more people than ever are listening to music. Isn't that the point? Music needs to be heard before it can be sold, as Damian Kulash of the Chicago band OK Go wrote in a recent New York Times opinion piece: "I certainly don't encourage people to pirate our music. . . . But before a million people can buy our record, a million people have to hear our music and like it enough to go looking for it. That won't happen without a lot of people playing us for their friends, which, in turn, won't happen without a fair amount of file sharing."

It's an attitude reflected in a recent Pew Research Center survey. Half the artists surveyed believe that sharing unauthorized files should be illegal, but only 15 percent held individual users responsible. Nearly 90 percent said they promote, advertise or display their music online, and 69 percent sell their music online.

Though sales of conventional CDs were down, business boomed on the Internet. Sanctioned digital album sales have skyrocketed 214 percent so far this year over 2004, and digital song sales are up 154 percent. Download-friendly videos and ring tones also have become new revenue streams for the music industry. Yet the industry comes out of 2005 further tainted as an inept $12 billion-a-year giant, more concerned with reining in consumers rather than exploiting advances in technology that have made the trading of music files accessible to tens of millions of consumers a month.

The music industry may be hurting, but music itself is more vital than ever. Tens of thousands of artists released new music this year, and it would take a dedicated listener years to hear it all.

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I've been thinking since I did my last post on the RIAA's attempt to curb downloading and how other industries react to change. Since it's Christmas time, I've thought about how certain holiday things have changed because of interests by the consumer. I'm curious how vendors responded and I doubt they responded like the RIAA tends to respond to change.

I haven't been to a Christmas tree farm in years, but I believe they're still around. I don't think they are as widely-attended as they used to be, but people still go out for the real thing. Fake Christmas trees probably sell more since they're a lot easier to deal with (you only buy it only once, there is no sap and it's easy to assemble and disassemble). I'm curious if any Christmas tree farm owners wanted to sue the makers of fake trees and the costumers that buy them. Such a thing would sound ridiculous, right?

Gift certificates have been around for quite awhile but the reality that almost every major retail outlet offers them is relatively new. Certificates are good, simple and handy little things that can help out those who have no idea what to get for somebody. However, certificates are almost like giving cold hard cash as a present; something that I've come to think of as a bit of a cop-out on the gift-giver's part. Is there a Coalition of Gift Givers that tries to stop people from buying gift certificates instead of something sealed in a box? Are they trying to curb the giving of bad gifts? (I don't think your mother will like Converge as much as you do). That sounds even more silly.

The RIAA can sue whomever they want to, put whatever spyware they want to on CDs and make as many anti-piracy PSAs they want to, but they aren't going to change people's activities back to the pre-MP3 days of music listening. They can continue to say "Bah Humbug" when so-and-so didn't sell the projected amount on CD and blame the customer/curious music listener for such. I just sit back and watch them try to walk forward with their shoelaces tied together.

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