The trouble the music industry is in right now is nothing compared to the hurt they will be feeling in ten years. But over the past few weeks, I’ve seen the future of the music industry glimmer in the form of a new trend: the music gallery.
For the week ending May 30, the U.S. music industry sold a total of 4,984,000 albums, according to Nielsen Soundscan (via Billboard). This figure, which includes new and catalog releases, represents the fewest number of albums sold in one week since Soundscan began compiling this data in 1994. By comparison, album sales for the week ending May 31, 2009, totaled 5.76 million. The highest one-week tally recorded during the Soundscan era is 45.4 million albums, in late December, 2000. And that’s not all: While there’s no exact way to compare last week’s total against imprecise, pre-Soundscan tallies, Billboard estimates that weekly album sales volume could, in fact, be at its lowest point since the early 1970s.
“But that’s okay” music executives nervously counter. They claim that the revenue is just shifting to other sources: that pre-recorded music these days is, in effect, an ad for other revenue streams. Though folks will download music for free, these downloads will lure them to go to concerts and buy t-shirts and whatnot.
Everyone in the music industry has been so freaked out by the present that they haven’t bothered to fast-forward the tape ten years or so. When the twenty year olds of today are thirty, with things like jobs and spouses and kids, the simple fact is that they won’t go to as many concerts. However, their somewhat advanced age will not slow them from side-stepping iTunes and downloading the music they want. I know, I can’t predict what technology will be a decade hence, but I think a safe bet is that the downloaders will stay a step or two ahead of the protective labels.
This decade of decline makes me feel a little guilty. Not because I feel bad for an industry that tried to sell content like boxes of cereal for as long as they could manage (ship out the boxes, take price up every year, and enjoy!). No, I feel guilty because if there’s anyone who should be propping up the bonuses of record label execs, it should be me. Continue reading