I’m always fascinated by reports of current trends in music consumption. An article in The Atlantic, “Why Aren’t Kids These Days Downloading Music?” by Derek Thompson was cited by Frank J. Oteri in “You Can’t Take That Away From Me” remarking on the latest trend: moving away from downloading and keeping tracks toward visiting streaming sites such as Pandora and YouTube where you listen in a less committal way.
This new structure is changing the economy of music as noted by Alexandra Topping:
Even though users of streaming services are not necessarily buying more music, the industry benefits by learning more about fans’ tastes. Steve Purdham, CEO and founder of We7, a music streaming service and download store, said: “They may not buy an album, though they have that opportunity, but you can sell them tour tickets and a T-shirt of their favourite band.”
A similar trend in literature is discussed by Motoko Rich and Brad Stone in the NY Times (“A New World: Scheduling E-Books“):
No topic is more hotly debated in book circles at the moment than the timing, pricing and ultimate impact of e-books on the financial health of publishers and retailers. Publishers are grappling with e-book release dates partly because they are trying to understand how digital editions affect demand for hardcover books. A hardcover typically sells for anywhere from $25 to $35, while the most common price for an e-book has quickly become $9.99.
Amazon.com, which sells electronic editions for its Kindle device, has effectively made $9.99 the de facto price for most best sellers, a price that publishers believe will reduce their profit margins over time. Barnes & Noble, through its Fictionwise arm, also sells best sellers in e-book form, for $9.95.
This is not all bad news, as publisher margins are higher on e-books because Amazon currently takes losses. Again, the game is to discover the best way to make a profit in a changing market.
There’s recognition all around that this trend is just beginning and that there is still a strong demand for physical CDs and Books. Right now, the only question concerns where this is all headed.
I still am curious as to what is driving this change. Is it the obvious answer that consumers are not willing to pay the prices? If that is the case, does that mean that these artistic products are no longer valued? I’m not entirely sold on that as consumption overall is not decreasing, merely changing. Is it perhaps a result of competition both in terms of distribution and production, i.e. more sale points with vast amounts of new products. That seems somewhat more likely to me at the moment. However, if that is the case, that would suggest that the market is hurting itself (which seems plausible).
This trend is particularly fascinating for me because I find myself affected at both ends of the spectrum. On the one hand, as a composer, I would want the market for music sales to remain strong so that the production of new music may be compensated in a way that makes its creation reasonable. On the other hand, I consume music in much the same way as the first article suggests; I don’t purchase many CDs any more (possibly due to current financial conditions), but instead peruse music in the non-commital ways provided by such services as YouTube and online streaming radio. That said, I would hate to see the demise of the album!
Update: More predictions on the future of e-art ask the question “Does the Book Industry Want To Get Napstered?”