Music CDs sales are down, coinciding with Napster's decline.
June 20, 2001 3:08 PM   Subscribe

Music CDs sales are down, coinciding with Napster's decline. Personally, I haven't bought a new CD in months because I no longer have a source for finding new music (what I used Napster for mainly). I suppose word of mouth and listening to online streams may help, but nothing compared to finding songs you liked on Napster, and searching others' files with similar tastes and finding new gems. Do you think the RIAA will notice this and change, or is control of distribution more important to them?
posted by mathowie (30 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm in the same boat. No one believes there are people like us out there who bought more CDs because of Napster, but file-sharing was the first way to sample music that actually resulted in something I liked.
posted by rcade at 3:33 PM on June 20, 2001

But if Napster hadn't complied with the federal injunction, there's a chance Shawn & Company would've gone to jail.

(Eh, sorry.)
posted by mrbula at 3:44 PM on June 20, 2001

I'm not sure if there's any way to achieve Napster-like sampling capabilities that the record companies would like. They're moving towards digital distribution, but it'll be strictly pay-for-play. Can anyone think of a compromise that would let Matt explore new music while still ensuring that the record company fat cats get their piece?
posted by lbergstr at 3:49 PM on June 20, 2001

There's other ways to find new music (and i'm not just talking amazon or the All Music Guide or boring old gnutella/bearshare). From what I understand, audiogalaxy is cool, as is WinMX (or something like that). Personally, I'm a Hotline user. Although it's a hotbed for porn and scams, a search for 'indie' digs up ten or so veritable indie music libraries. And you can download entire albums...

Things like this, it could be argued, decrease album sales - but the indie music community (including the pirates on hotline) are very vocal in their assertion that if you really like something, you should buy it. Hotline (and its peers) can be excellent for exploring (especially due to the community aspect), as well as for completists. I've bought many, many more albums in the last 2 years due to Napster, Hotline, etc., than i would have otherwise, and a vast number of these recordings are by bands (and even genres) that I would not have otherwise heard of.
posted by Marquis at 3:53 PM on June 20, 2001

when record companies control online distribution and charge for everything you hear it does me no good whatsoever. I do not want to buy mp3s, contrary to whatever record companies think. I want to buy albums. I like having a cd, artwork and liner notes. What I want the mp3s for is to hear the music first, so that I know I won't just listen to it once or twice and toss it on the floor of my closet.
posted by shinji_ikari at 4:06 PM on June 20, 2001

Just one small point: I'm not going to argue that some people didn't buy more CDs because of Napster, or that some didn't buy less, but I think to draw a causal line between the Napster bans and the decline of sales is very, very iffy. Actually even in this article they detail exactly how last year was a really crazy year for big hits at this time of year.

Anyhow, just my dumb comment. Please everyone get back to restating the same 5 things everyone restates anytime there is a web discussion of Napster. (If I was less lazy I'd even link the Courtney Love Salon thing to save you all time!)
posted by beefula at 4:07 PM on June 20, 2001

There's one other consideration. Contrary to Alan Greenspan and Co., the economy is somewhat in the shits, as evidenced by the spending lows last Christmas. Consequentially, purchasing power is down and that obviously means less CDs for all of us to buy.

While Napster offered the immediate acquisition of tunes and a broader selection, I've still been able to find what I need through Gnutella. Of course, said acquisition is generally after a long hunt.
posted by ed at 4:23 PM on June 20, 2001

What Beefula said. Since we're on the Internet a lot more than most people, we think that everyone in the world uses Napster (or analogs) every day, which clearly isn't the case. I honestly doubt it makes that much difference in CD sales and even if it did, you shouldn't confuse correlation with causation.
posted by adrianhon at 4:33 PM on June 20, 2001

Anytime something happens to disrupt the status quo, the corporate response is usually to freak out. Thus the reaction to Napster. The status quo is always desirable. So, it's still more about control, I think, than actually thinking about how to capitalize on digital music, or its effect on the market.

Have there been any published studies on file-sharing's impact on record sales?
posted by prozaction at 4:38 PM on June 20, 2001

I'm sceptical that there's that much of a causal link here, But it'd be worth crunching the numbers to see whether the sectors of the CD market that have suffered most are those that Napster claimed to be empowering: the small-label, fringe genre artists, rather than the ones getting permanent airplay on Bland FM.
posted by holgate at 4:48 PM on June 20, 2001

'Can anyone think of a compromise that would let Matt explore new music while still ensuring that the record company fat cats get their piece?'

Well, i can think of one avenue that allows for finding lots of new music whilst ensuring the fat cats don't get any piece (just how it should be) - the trusty independent record store. Obviously, not every item in everyone of these stores is fully independent of the big 5 (who sell 80% of the worlds 'music'), and the word indie has become a completely bastardized term anyway, but speaking only for my own tastes/experience here in Europe i've bought at least 1500 records of 'new music' (new forms, paradigms, as opposed to just 'new') in the last ten years - none of which are connected to the EMI, Warner, Sony, Bertlesmann, Universal umbrella of stagnation in any way. A nice trustable worldwide mail order facility is available from one of the worlds finest modern music emporiums which gets numerous deliveries daily and has a high turnaround of fresh new stuff. It's a shame what happened to Napster but it seems to be only a temp glitch in the long struggle for artistic awakening of the masses leading to true prosumer culture revolution redefining entertainment content/distribution. Viva La Resistance!.
posted by Kino at 5:01 PM on June 20, 2001

well, i refused to submit my will to the riaa and got kazaa.

Do you think the RIAA will notice this and change, or is control of distribution more important to them?

the riaa represents large record companies that's sole goal is to make money. at the same time, they can be extremely slow to respond to changes in modern culture, like the internet, that affect the way the market works.

i suspect that these companies will try and find a way to make a profit distributing music online. because these large corporations have responded so poorly to emerging technology the genie is already out of the bottle and it may be impossible to get that pesky fellow back inside.
posted by will at 5:09 PM on June 20, 2001

One word -- KaZaA.

Good interface...and hyper-intelligent downloads. Only 128 kbps max, though, but if you only use it to discover new artists, that's all you'll need.

Agreed... Must purchase music to support new artists, but for chrissakes pLeAsE won't the industry drop the price a couple of bucks. The prices are only so inflated because of the cost of marketing. Let the music do the talking and we'll buy the CD's if we not force fed over-hyped, over-marketed crap.
posted by drgonzo at 5:11 PM on June 20, 2001

Can't stand mp3s that are 128 kbps. I don't have golden ears but anyone can tell the difference between 128 and 192 (or 256), especially with classical music in particular. Hence the requirement for excellent resources such as Audiogalaxy.
posted by adrianhon at 5:28 PM on June 20, 2001

I now use Music City which I believe uses the same network as KaZaA and I have never had problems downloading 192 kbps mp3's. It's great because in the couple months I have been using it, the number of members on at one time has jumped from 50,000 to almost 300,000. That means the selection of music keeps getting better and better!
posted by fresh-n-minty at 5:36 PM on June 20, 2001

i've been using audiogalaxy, and i think it's wonderful. it reminds me of the of old, and i think i have as good or better luck finding music on it than i ever did using napster. it's got pretty amazing breadth of music.

i haven't bought any music in a while, and the last cds i remember buying were all purchased after listening to mp3s i got from napster. that said, i just downloaded a bunch of tracks from the new red house painters album, and i'm definitely gonna go out and get it.
posted by chacal at 5:57 PM on June 20, 2001

though i've only glimpsed at it, people (even here) seem to be raving about filepile. personally, i still find new music through the same conventional methods. trying out what friends suggest or hearing something in a store/movie/show. i seem to be doing okay, discovering 2 new things to like, every week.

i use audiogalaxy for my music and i think it works a lot better than napster. one small problem though... i still haven't figured out how to change my quality (to 192) settings. ::your cue to tell me::
posted by lotsofno at 6:10 PM on June 20, 2001

bitrate and quality depend more on which encoder you use and how clean your source is than anything else... there are shitty 256K mp3s and loverly 112K ones... people who just "can't stand" 128 but think 192 is fine don't know what they're talking about.
posted by techgnollogic at 6:35 PM on June 20, 2001

Coincidentally, as radio stations are conglomerated into vast tracts of everyone-plays-the-same-small-playlist sameness, there's less music available over the air to inspire purchases.
posted by dws at 7:51 PM on June 20, 2001

WinMx, as mentioned earlier. definitely my favorite filer-sharing substitute. if you use your old napster login, you can browse the napster server as well as winmx's network and a variety of opennap servers. I almost always find what I want, in a variety of bit rates. check it out!
posted by mcsweetie at 8:29 PM on June 20, 2001

Umm.. CD sales have been dropping pretty consistently for awhile now. Napster did not cause it to drop.

Despite the enlightened attitude of many people here who "borrow" music and maybe purchase it later, I doubt it was happening all that often.

CD sales are down and will continue to drop because the record industry has amazingly done everything in its power to kill music. From consolidating the diversity of bands down to a manageable few to the destruction of radio, music should be in the absolute toilet.

This industry has done everything it can to destroy independent music stores (sorry, I'm testy on this, my father runs a small record store) and radio in America. Napster was a breath of fresh air simply because you were able to be exposed again in ways you hadn't been in a long long time.
posted by jbeaumont at 8:36 PM on June 20, 2001

Add me to the list of those who hasn't bought a CD since Napster was killed, and who bought many based on my exposures there (although I just ordered a Daler Mehndi CD, so my streak is broken...).
posted by rushmc at 8:58 PM on June 20, 2001

Re: quality. There is no better MP3 than a LAME VBR MP3. Check out to learn how to make great-sounding files.
posted by darukaru at 9:20 PM on June 20, 2001

Anybody know where real numbers on CD sales trends can be found? Are there actually any causal links between MP3 trading and sales since people started trading MP3s? And not just over Napster; before that, plenty of people were trading MP3s over IRC, ICQ/AIM, Usenet and the web. Napster and other P2P apps just made it a lot easier.
posted by RylandDotNet at 11:41 PM on June 20, 2001

"The story with CDs is even more intriguing. According to SoundScan, CD sales from January through March 4 were up 5.6% from the period a year earlier. But for the period from March 5--just after Napster began removing copyrighted material from its service--through June 12, CD sales were behind last year's numbers by 0.9%" Not a monumentally dramatic decrease, but the numbers give strong indication that Napster has had an effect. However, I think this is more due to the fact that many people are now aware of where their money goes when they buy a big label album, and think twice before doing it.

"Once Napster was ordered to police its music files, the record industry lost a powerful marketing device. " It's not so much directly because of Napster, but because the record industry's response to Napster has made them look like satan's little minions. They wear the black hats in this game, and who wants to support the bad guys?

I found this part of the article amusing: "...retailers say they remain starved for more smash hits [this year], pointing to the expected arrival of another 'N Sync record next month." This is about the retailers and everyone up the ladder, not the satisfaction of the customer. Consumers are treated like cattle, and with good reason: many act like cattle. Those of us who don't? Well, marketing doesn't work on us anyway, so we don't register on the RIAA radar.

I refused to buy any CDs until around 1997. I was still buying cassette tapes whenever possible, and even then not very often. Most of my music purchases were done in my college days and I just played that stuff over and over. In the past few years I've warmed up a bit to CDs and was buying mostly stuff from big labels until I stumbled across, and learned there's so much more out there. I think the last big label CD I bought was Billy Joel's last live album, which I believe I originally learned about quite by accident while digging around in Napster. In the past year alone I've bought over forty CDs, but they have been from places like, CDBaby, Amazon, or more often independent labels and local bands. Stuff that probably doesn't show up on the books of these retailers. In many cases I handed cash directly to the artist after s/he performed at a gig, and received the CD immediately.

The corporate record industry is not preserving music when they fight Napster with copyright laws. They are simply fighting to preserve their hold on music. The revolution isn't over.
posted by ZachsMind at 12:29 AM on June 21, 2001

I wouldn't say that I 'don't know what I'm talking about' when I say that I feel there is a noticeable difference in quality between 128 and 256 kbps (or 192), Techgnollogic. Many people believe that there is, irrespective of what encoder you use. Others have conducted blind tests that show 128 kbps can be distinguished from higher bitrates.

I know that the difference is small and sometimes unnoticeable in many listening environments, but it is there; so I would caution you against making such generalised statements about people who you think 'don't know what they're talking about'.
posted by adrianhon at 3:33 AM on June 21, 2001

lets see, you have the riaa pissed because no one is buying records. the "musicland group" (suncoat/media play/sam goody) pissed because no one is buying records. and they can't blame napster. now they have no scapegoat, so they might actually have to think about what they put out for product

...indidentally, several radio stations here in cincinnati (and we have a clear channel "kiss" station here) purport "the newest and best hits" but then i turn it on at work, blink three times, and say, "didn't i hear that 10 years ago?" or "isn't that song from 1995?" how is that "newest"? thats the 'infinity broadcasting' station we have here, who plays, "all the best hits without the rap" (their words)

i haven't heard a NEW song by a NEW artist on the radio in over a year, if not longer.
posted by benjh at 4:24 AM on June 21, 2001

CD sales have been dropping pretty consistently for awhile now.

Even the RIAA disputes that claim -- its 2000 market report indicates that CD sales were up 3.1 percent in actual dollars in 2000.
posted by rcade at 6:25 AM on June 21, 2001

> What I want the mp3s for is to hear the music first, so
> that I know I won't just listen to it once or twice and
> toss it on the floor of my closet.

Yes, yes, but that's one of the things the companies object to. You're supposed to buy on the basis of their marketing campaigns and airplay payola.
posted by jfuller at 6:31 AM on June 21, 2001

adrianhon: I think you misunderstood my point. I didn't say there is no difference in fidelity between 128 and 192, or 256... or that it isn't possible to tell a difference... I said people who think 128 will always sound awful and 192 always sounds good/acceptable are mistaken. The encoder matters. The source matters. The sample rate matters. All I'm saying is listen first and see...

Actually, I was criticizing people who make generalizations about sound quality based on bitrate alone... then you come along to caution me from making generalizations of my own, even though i really wasn't... How about that.
posted by techgnollogic at 6:49 PM on June 24, 2001

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