28 March 2011

Pig-headedness, not Piracy, Killed Recorded Music

An extremely feeble article in the Guardian parrots the recording industry's line that piracy is killing music:

Global recorded music sales fell by almost $1.5bn (£930m) last year as digital piracy continued to take its toll on the industry, with the UK losing its mantle as the third-largest music market after "physical" sales of CDs collapsed by almost a fifth.

Sorry, I think I missed the proof that this fall was *caused* by piracy: any evidence? No, I thought not. Whereas there is growing research that unauthorised sharing actually increases sales (see the list of examples and links in this post.)

Perhaps the problem is rather that the sales being driven by this unauthorised sharing just aren't being generated fast enough to compensate for the overall decline in the recorded music industry. After all, there's nothing that says it must always grow. Maybe people are just fed up with its antics now that there are plenty of other kinds of music available (under cc licences, for example.)

In fact, there's a rather telling graph that the IFPI has kindly provided. It shows, of course, the decline in total sales of recorded music, breaking it down by "physical", "digital" and "recorded rights". The last of these is pretty much constant, while digital is growing at a modest pace.

But as is so often the case, this graph tells us something quite different from those "obvious" figures - and something rather interesting: that digital sales didn't really exist before 2004.

Thank about it: it took five years after Napster was created before the recording industry finally began to acknowledge the existence of a revolution whose inevitability was obvious to anyone who had spent a few hours online. Is it any wonder that people got fed up with the exorbitant pricing and inconvenient packaging of CDs, and despaired of ever being treated fairly with reasonably-price downloads?

In effect, it was the industry's pig-headed refusal for half a decade to sell people what they wanted that has driven users away. If some - even many - of them turned to unauthorised downloads, is it really any wonder? So before we blame the pirates, how about a word or two for the owners of those heads?

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Unknown said...

OK Glynn, let's take a look at a slightly different situation. Books. As you know I'm a futurist of sorts. I make all sorts of weird and crazy predictions because, well, that's what futurists do. We look at trends, add the numbers, and see where they lead us.

My latest is that brick and mortar book stores will be extinct within 5-10 years, along with traditional publishers, and that everyone would move to self publishing.

This has disturbed a lot of people. One relatively well known fantasy author told me that she'd stop writing except for herself and her friends if this happened. A couple of other writers who I showed the numbers to went 'hum' and started writing new books on the spot. The people in the Balanced Copyright Facebook Group told me I'm crazy.

But. When I add the numbers, it makes sense.

You know I'd never bought an ebook before the start of March? I now own 30 of them, and they weigh a combined 1.5 pounds. I didn't have to leave my chair to order them, and can carry my entire collection everywhere I go.

Physical books just can't compete. And the payback from self publishing, which can be as high as 70%, is a lot better than the usual 5% you get from a traditional publisher.


Glyn Moody said...

@The Mad Hatter: books can't compete in terms of conveying raw information, but I think they will survive as desirable objects - that is, as analogue artefacts, not digital containers.

Lazzarus said...

Good post! I guess both digital files and printed versions will coexist. Ebooks and mp3 music are great, but there's something they miss: you can't smell, you can't touch. I have lots of digital files, but when I'm in a bookshop or CD store, and I come up with a beautiful printed version of my favorite author... I wanna have it anyway. It's more like a piece of furniture or a piece of art...

Glyn Moody said...

@Lazzarus: that's it, exactly. Digital artefacts can drive the sale of analogue ones - which, as you rightly note, have properties that make them quite different.

We will consume much information in digital format - it's much more efficient; but still buy beautiful books as artefacts to enjoy for themselves.

Unknown said...

Lazzarus and Glyn,

I said Book Stores, not Books. There is a difference.


Glyn Moody said...

@MadHatter: sure, but I think that bookstores will take on a new role centred around the analogue aspect of books - not just the smell and feel, but also the author.