Agony Shorthand

Thursday, November 13, 2003
"THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IS GETTING ITS ACT TOGETHER AT LAST"....Or so says Michael J. Wolf in a piece in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (who've actually covered the crazed machinations and death throes of the record industry extremely well, with the consumer's best interests front and center in almost every article). Why should we care about the megacorporations and how they divide up their diminishing pie? Well, it's a matter of taste, really, but I think that what happens here -- how music is bought, sold and distributed -- will have repercussions down to the micro-indie label level. Plus I find macro changes in the way the world (or even the world of business) operates fascinating, particularly when change -- which is inevitable and should almost always be embraced -- is forced on unwilling participants (e.g. the record industry). Among Wolf's observations and conclusions:

-- "Despite a sales decline of 20% in the past three years, the sheer volume of online downloads, portable devices and ripped CDs have made music an ever important part of people's lives...and for the core audience of 10- to 24-year-olds, it remains about rebelling against parents, sharing experiences with friends, and setting the moods of their lives"

-- "As digital music devices like the iPod, Sony's Network Walkman and Dell's Digital Jukebox take off in popularity, new marketing approaches should flourish, perhaps bundling pre-downloaded song libraries with devices similar to the way cellular phones are sold with talking minutes."

-- "The key is that in the digital world, the music industry no longer controls the format...Since digital consumers are embracing singles, and no longer will tolerate albums with one or two good tracks, the best music executives will strive to develop commercially viable acts with deep bodies of work and consistent quality"

-- "As the industry works through this massive format shift, there will be fewer music majors releasing fewer albums. But that will create opportunities for independent music labels that operate on different cost structures and can support artists whose albums aren't megasellers. Good music will still find its audience, and audiences will pay for the privilege of receiving it the way they want it. When music companies have pooled resources, lowered costs and extended their marketing reach to deliver on this promise, the industry will resume growing"

Just watching the shift from albums to individual songs is fascinating to me -- and more in line with the way I (and perhaps you) enjoy listening to music anyway. For years I've made tapes, and now CD-Rs, of my favorite stuff -- 45s and LP tracks -- and those are often the discs in heaviest rotation in the car and at home. It's interesting to see how the internet facilitated this mindset/way of listening even further, and how it's caused a seismic upheaval in an industry that refused to acknowledge it. I don't see any downside, since those of us that also enjoy full albums get to vote with our wallets like everyone else. Discuss.