Rolling Stone has its year-end wrap-up in their latest issue. The title and subheading say it all: Music Biz Laments "Worst Year Ever" - Labels' woes continue as album sales drop seven percent, while digital single sales surge.
Here are the stats: album sales are down 7.2 percent while digital downloads are up 150 percent. Translation for the anxiety-stricken: PANIC! Translation for the calm: quit fighting and adapt if you haven't already.
On the next page, a separate article brings up an interesting issue: sales from single digital downloads from services like iTunes do not bring in the kind of money that albums do. That's a big "uh oh," but ultimately I have very little sympathy to the major recording industry's woes. This is like seeing a gambler lose a good chunk of change by putting too much blind faith into certain "sure-fire" things. You can be as scientific as you want with what works and what doesn't, but nothing is certain.
As the major labels consolidated together, the intent was to put more money in sure moneymakers. R&B, rap and pop are traditionally big sellers, so it made sense to think that these were worth betting the farm, the cattle and the clothes for. However, the fickle nature of human consumers threw certain "guaranteed" blockbuster records under the bus. Whether or not these records got the promotion they needed to be a blockbuster or were just really crappy, this betting was beginning to show more red more than black. Add that in with the popularity of peer-to-peer downloading and you have a pickle of a problem.
I don't blame record companies for trying to curb downloading via p2ps but the deal about the Internet and its ever-changing technology is that there is no way of fully stopping it. Just like how the movie industry panicked when television was introduced, there was a legit reason to panic but it was very foolish to go out their way to stop the new technology. People adapt to what's easier, not necessarily what's "right" or not.
When I see reports like these, I get the impression that a lot of people think the age of the CD is on the quick decline. I doubt CDs will go completely away in the near future (how can you rip songs into the MP3 format without a CD?), but people need to rethink that of CD sales as a main IV. The quality of the music is important, but as proven time and time again, the promotion of the record greatly outweighs the quality.
For longtime readers of this blog, you know that this a frequent topic that I like to bring up. While I don't really listen to modern mainstream music these days, I can't forget the place that got me into music. Seeing companies lose their minds because of new technology is very amusing to me. Change is constant, whether we acknowledge it or not. Panic and speculation get people talking, but I wonder why we think so much about uncertainty.