Slumping Sales.
July 20, 2001 6:05 AM   Subscribe

Slumping Sales. The RIAA appears to be losing money so far this year because people aren't buying as many cd's and aren't going to as many concerts. It's hard to tell if there's some correlation between the demise of napster and the falling sales or if the numbers are down because the new album's coming out aren't really that good. Personally, I'd say a little bit of both. I haven't purchased many cd's this year, although there are one or two that I plan to pick up in the coming months (only because I've already downloaded the songs and know that it's worth the money).
posted by dave (37 comments total)
 
Was the number of Napster users really significant compared to the number of CDs sold annually?
posted by straight at 6:18 AM on July 20, 2001


I simply stopped buying music. RIAA has made music into a Microsoft product for me. e.g., I don't like paying for it because I don't like the beast behind the product that is getting my money, so I limit my purchases as much as possible.

I get music via alternate routes as much as possible now. That means delving into the local music scene more and buying locally produced music.
posted by fleener at 6:27 AM on July 20, 2001


I was listening to Sound Opinions on Chicago's XRT this week, and the two hosts were talking about this issue in regards to concert attendance. The reasoning, simply, is that it costs too much to see a concert.

I agree with that. I wanted to see Radiohead on their current tour, and they're playing out in Grant Park downtown. On the first day of pre-sale, I clicked and clicked and clicked to get in to TicketMaster's atrocious site... only to find the tickets were $39 each. $39 to be in a park, general admission, to see Radiohead? I'll pass.

There was a Fugazi show here a few weeks back, though - I think with Jimmy Eat World - and the show was $6. I'm not even familiar with their music, but heck, six bucks! That type of thing encourages people to seek out new music, methinks.

There are other ways to discover new music, or really take in the music you love. But when money becomes an obstacle, it hurts.

I would say that the same thing is hurting CD sales. The most expensive CD I've ever purchased was at Musicland, sadly, in the early 90s. I paid $19 for R.E.M.'s Green, which was hard to find at the time for some reason. Now, $19 CDs are standard. Again, twenty bucks for a CD is increasingly difficult for folks to justify.

When there's no way to try out this music - either live or by MP3 - that hurts everyone. Sure, you can rely on MTV or radio, but both of those methods have become so overwhelmingly sanitized that truly innovative music is hard to find. Concerts and CD distribution are falling in line with that: expensive, disposable music that's worth far less than what the folks are asking.
posted by hijinx at 6:27 AM on July 20, 2001


sobs for the industry....

Never has an industry struck a blow against an activity that its main customer base found enjoyable, even semi-religious. It should be no surprise that they are not patronizing them in such great numbers.
posted by brucec at 6:30 AM on July 20, 2001


That's true, you find that a lot of the popular music is shoved down your throat and that the music countdown's don't reflect the true feelings of music buyers but rather those of the marketing juggernauts behind the music.

I started going to local music shows a couple of years ago. I don't mind paying $5-10 to goto a show and see a bunch of great bands. When you're paying $40 for nosebleed seats at a concert, it's hard to justify. You can also buy a lot of great cd's at these shows for a fraction of the cost because there isn't a big label markup or a middleman. It's really too bad that a lot of the bands that you see at these shows will never show up on the radio, MTV or MuchMusic because they don't have some guy in a suit to throw millions of dollars around.
posted by dave at 6:38 AM on July 20, 2001


Was the number of Napster users really significant compared to the number of CDs sold annually?

A year ago Napster had 20 million users. I think a crowd that large could have a [positive/negative] impact on CD sales, depending on what you think of file sharing.

Personally, I miss the opportunity Napster offered to sample songs from a new album before I decided whether it was worth buying. So I end up spending a lot less on music. I'm trying to go the non-sharing, DMCA-fearing-American route with services like Launch.Com's personal radio station, but that just tends to play the stuff I already own.
posted by rcade at 6:54 AM on July 20, 2001


You know it could be the economic downturn. I know Napster is generally considered more important than the world economy, but it is always a possibility...
posted by andrew cooke at 7:01 AM on July 20, 2001


I'd like to see a study detailing how many Napster users burn their own CDs. All of the people I know burnt out on burning in the first couple months and reverted to buying CDs. The reason: when you have the entire body of music at your disposal, you either spend all your time file swapping, or you buy a few select CDs and enjoy the rest of your time doing more worthwhile things.
posted by fleener at 7:23 AM on July 20, 2001


I've stopping by both CDs and DVDs as the practices of the RIAA and MPAA became more known to me recently.
It's not a conscious protest, but every time I think I'm going to go buy some media, I just don't feel like supporting such a syndicate.
posted by dong_resin at 7:39 AM on July 20, 2001


I have also decided to stop buying CDs as a protest to the RIAA. If I want to buy a new CD I wait until it comes up in the used bins at my local store. Either that or I make a copy of a friends.

Ironically when Napster was in full swing I did not have any copied CDs. I would go out and buy any CD I wanted. Now I copy for myself and many of my friends. Fuck the RIAA, long live the music.
posted by DragonBoy at 7:44 AM on July 20, 2001


hijinx: There was a Fugazi show here a few weeks back, though - I think with Jimmy Eat World - and the show was $6. I'm not even familiar with their music, but heck, six bucks! That type of thing encourages people to seek out new music, methinks.

you couldn't have picked a better example of why the riaa is unneccessary than fugazi.
posted by lescour at 7:52 AM on July 20, 2001


Free Fugazi at Ft. Reno Park in DC on Monday, August 13. I'll be there. Lemme know if you will be.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:54 AM on July 20, 2001


I've stopped buying CD's mostly because most of what's considered popular is not worth the money to me. And most of the stuff I've been opened up to and actually liked was via online communities similar to napster. It's often too obscure to be easily found for purchasing. Or the alternative of file sharing has made me just plain lazy.
posted by samsara at 8:04 AM on July 20, 2001


I'm with Andrew, I think its mostly an economy thing. Napster or no Napster people will always buy music regardless of how shitty it is overall. Remember one man's shitty music is another man's "Greatest Band of All Time" I know this because in my circle of friends, we all have at least one band that we each like that someone else thinks is shit. therefore, I don't think music quality hurts sales. Animosity towards the RIAA might contribute but I think people would still buy if they felt they had the money.
posted by srw12 at 8:05 AM on July 20, 2001


Fugazi has always had a rule that kids should not have to pay more than $10 to see a live band. It's their rules, not an issue of supply and demand. The venues dislike it, the promoters dislike it, and TM hates it.

You have to realize though, that alot of bands ( not all )don't make that much money off of ticket prices, merchandising is the true cash cow. Tina Turner has so many stagehands, performers, pyrotechnics, and musicians that the cost of the ticket is just enough. Bands like fugazi who have 3 amps, a van, and pot noodles, can afford to take such a dive on ticket prices.

Still not quite sure why the Eagles were $100 a ticket though.
posted by remlapm at 8:07 AM on July 20, 2001


The reason their sales are going down, is because the cost of the CD has gone up considerably in the past 6 months. I hadn't been to my favorite CD store in a while and decided to stop by to pick up the new Gorillaz disc. $16?? Not too long ago they were selling the same type of CDs for $12 or maybe at most $13.

And the RIAA wonders why their royalty checks are getting slimmer.
posted by misterioso at 8:12 AM on July 20, 2001


hijinx: problem with ticket prices is that success drives up the overheads of running a tour. Radiohead's South Park gig cost £27.50 a ticket, and the band wasn't taking a fee: factor in the cost of security, staging, roadies etc, and you're not left with that much. So it's hard to compare that to gigs where it's the band, their mates, and a Transit van to ferry the gear. Sure, big gig prices are too high (Ticketmaster, be damned) but there's more justification behind paying $40 for an arena or park-sized gig than paying $20-30 for one in a medium-sized theatre. (Shepherd's Bush Empire, you know who you are.)

As for CDs: I've bought a few this year, but mainly from artists I really care about. I don't really make that many impulse purchases these days.
posted by holgate at 8:14 AM on July 20, 2001


Now, $19 CDs are standard.

I have a collection of between two and three thousand CDs and I've never ever paid $19 for a domestic, single disc. I know Sam Goody sells them for that price, but no one has to pay that kind of money. Christ, even Amazon is cheaper than that.
posted by jpoulos at 8:31 AM on July 20, 2001


Thom Yorke of Radiohead recently said "The cool thing about Napster is that it...encourages enthusiasm for music in a way that the music industry has long forgotten to do." The record industry pins its hopes solely on all or nothing releases. The article cites dismal performances from P.Diddy, Stone Temple Pilots and others, while echoing hope for the new Michael Jackson album to rebound sales. But there's a reason why U2's concert sales or Radiohead's album sales have been immune to the slump. When a band creates genuine music rather than manufactured marketed pop-jingles, it will gain fans. Like good software, it just takes time to earn fans. I wish the RIAA would see the internet as a chance to cultivate these fans rather than alienate them.
posted by harrycaul at 8:41 AM on July 20, 2001


personally i'm still pissed that cds cost more than cassettes. for the same reason i'm pissed that dvds cost more than tapes.

they cost less to make!!

grr.
posted by o2b at 8:43 AM on July 20, 2001


I don't think it's the economy, record sales have been immune to downturns in the past and movieticket sales are up. It's a conscious choice not to by CD's
posted by Mick at 8:57 AM on July 20, 2001


I can see CDs versus cassettes, I'm a little miffed about that myself. But VHS tapes and DVD movies are completely different animals. DVDs are much higher quality, and usually have interactive menus, multiple soundtracks, sometimes even multiple camera angles, and usually have "extras" which are anything from movie trailers to "The Making Of..." specials.

They cost more, but you get a lot more, too. Usually, anyway.
posted by CrayDrygu at 8:57 AM on July 20, 2001


Well, I seem to be on a one man mission to buck the trend. Since I got to Australia, I have been buying CDs like there's no tomorrow. Japanese imports here cost about the same, maybe less than, a chart topping CD in a high street store in the UK. Not only can I find albums I desire at half the price I've never been bothered to pay, but they all have that "bonus track" thats only ever bloody available on the Japanese release.

I really miss my vinyl, but there is no way that I'm ever going to cart half a ton of treasured music around the world with me (especially since that 5 kilo limit on hand luggage seems to be breeding rapidly within the cattle classes of the airline industry).
posted by davehat at 8:57 AM on July 20, 2001


Regarding concert prices, it's instructive to look at the effects of the near-monopolistic SFX. SFX is owned by the worst company in america, Clear Channel Communications. This organization's incredibly detrimental effects on the music biz were excellently reported by Eric Boehlert on salon in a series of really informative articles.
posted by jeb at 8:59 AM on July 20, 2001


Of relevance perhaps is this article about overly expensive Madonna tickets.

jeb: Of note is that SFX has changed its name to Clear Channel Promotions (or similar.) They've got your radio and your concert venue. What's next? (TV?)

holgate: That's a very valid point. Tours aren't cheap to do, given the massive amount of logistics involved. And I like Radiohead, their message, and their music. I'm not demanding an expense sheet but I'd feel more confident ponying up the $40 if I knew that a good portion was going to the band; I'm not 100% certain if that price was pre- or post-TM vulture fees.

Reminds me of the Pearl Jam-TM scenario from the 90s, and how intense they were on battling TM. And look where that got them... they made a powerful statement at the time but, yes, now use TM. I would fault that with the system rather than the band. But then again, they chose to use the system instead of doing a Fugazi route. (insert argument over monopoly here)

jpoulos: Yeah, you might not've paid $20, and I only did so once. But the process has become very, very streamlined: kids hear music on MTV or corporate-owned radio. They march down to Sam Goody, Borders, or Tower to buy the disc. They bring it home, and play it. Repeat for the next artist dubbed "cool". While I don't think kids are lemmings, the entire system has a very, very strong and deep influence on what is popular nowadays. And while it's popular, heck, charge $20.
posted by hijinx at 9:07 AM on July 20, 2001


I'm glad to see I'm not the only one not buying new CDs when possible.

I usually buy used CDs at a local shop. I haven't been to a show in ages and I used to go to over 20 concerts a year back in like '95 through '98.

Its too bad it has to be this way. but what can be said? The Industry has brought this on it's own self.
posted by Qambient at 9:18 AM on July 20, 2001


A year ago Napster had 20 million users. I think a crowd that large could have a [positive/negative] impact on CD sales, depending on what you think of file sharing.

Thats worldwide, isn't it? That's just a drop in the bucket compared to the worldwide market for CDs.

If you assume that 20 million is 75% from the USA (a total guess), then 15 million people might be a significant chunk of the CD market in the USA, but still probably not enough to explain the slump in sales.
posted by straight at 10:27 AM on July 20, 2001


Honestly, if someone's dumb enough to pay $19 for a Destiny's Child CD, let 'em.

God Bless Newbury Comics!
posted by solistrato at 10:41 AM on July 20, 2001


I've never paid $19 for a CD either. Two I just bought were under $11 each, no tax, no shipping, from Barnes & Noble's Web site. I used to regularly pay $15 or so for CDs, not including sales tax, so from my perspective, CD prices are actually going down.
posted by kindall at 11:23 AM on July 20, 2001


Of note is that SFX has changed its name to Clear Channel Promotions (or similar.) They've got your radio and your concert venue. What's next? (TV?)

They're already there.
posted by Dirjy at 11:44 AM on July 20, 2001


There was a Fugazi show here a few weeks back, though - I think with Jimmy Eat World - and the show was $6.,

Actually it was Fugazi with Shellac and the Ex. At least in Chicago. The Radiohead and Madonna comparisions are pretty silly, these artists are multi-millionares with a huge fan base and their events are a logistics nightmare. Your ticket also pays for the corporate label game in general.

Independant shows simple don't have that much overheard. I rarely pay over $8-10 bucks for shows in Chicago, but I'm willing to bite the bullet and pay the premium to see Radiohead, because they're so damn good.
posted by skallas at 11:54 AM on July 20, 2001


Who in the hell wants to pay $19 a CD? I'd sooner invest that money as follows: $9 for a rep house movie, $6 for a Fugazi show and $4 for a burrito. While that doesn't include drinks, that's still a hell of an evening: something that you can mine hours of entertainment out of. Conversation is free. You're sharing the experience with friends. And you can't beat the free enthusiasm of a non-fanboyish crowd that hasn't handed over all of their hard-earned cash in the name of seeing an ego-driven, corporate-fueled band perform blandly for a few hours. They're there for the music, with a potential sense of discovery in the air coming if the opening act rocks the house.
posted by ed at 12:09 PM on July 20, 2001


i haven't paid to see a national act in years. i saw pearl jam last fall for free, actually got PAID to see weezer, and i got to see built to spill a month or so ago due to the generosity of a friend. when time allows, i DO go to see local shows, because i'm basically paying my friends or friends of friends to do what they love, and i know they're as fuckin' broke as i am.

i haven't been buying cds often, either, but when i do i go to the music store where my sister works and get a healthy discount. they have tons of used cds there, too, which i snap up when the money is available.

i would shop at the local indie record stores, but they're too bloody expensive (you can get your $18 discs there) and i hate hate hate going in by myself and getting ignored. if i go in with a friend in a band or some such, they slobber all over us. um, fuck you very much.

oh! and i'm possibly going to see depeche mode tonight (at a hideous SFX venue) but i should say that i wouldn't pay to see them -- two sets of free tickets have surfaced.
posted by sugarfish at 2:06 PM on July 20, 2001


The music industry has never figured out what a few enterprising bands stumbled upon decades ago through either sheer genius or blind luck -- open and free trading of your music leads to an increase in your album sales. Example: The Grateful Dead (not a fan, apologies to any Deadheads on the thread, just not my thing) actively encouraged fans to make copies of their albums, record their concerts, and share and trade among their friends. Consequence: The Dead's album sales remained strong throughout their history, even during periods where they weren't releasing anything new and they continually picked up new fans as they went along.

Of course, for this to work you have to be making music that enough people will think is descent. Perhaps the industry's hostility to the "try before you buy" ethos is due to the huge loads of tripe (as judged by an, admittedly square, over 30 guy) they seem to want people to buy these days.
posted by edlark at 2:53 PM on July 20, 2001


I just blew $160 at Tower a few hours ago. I don't think I paid more than $15 for anything, except a 4 disc collection of Wynonie Harris.
I usually spend a hundred or so bucks a month on music, but what can I say-its a sickness. Back when I bought music on tape that $100 seemed to go a lot farther and I took more chances with bands I wasn't familiar with.
So I don't feel so bad using Kazaa or WinMX to check out a band before buying their stuff.
Sooner or later the majors are going to realize that the short view is going to cost them in the end.
Even though I view a boycott as cutting off your nose to spite your face, I do hope someone at the RIAA catches a clue and soon.
posted by black8 at 12:08 AM on July 21, 2001


In the old days (he said, leaning on his walking stick, while all the Young People rolled their eyes heavenwards) the adiaphora of an album - nifty packaging, booklets and posters, messages inscribed in the run-off, double grooves, locked grooves - were part of the fun. Just because these things are vinyl-specific is irrelevant. the point is that when one possesses the record, one possesses an object of value, not simply a carrier of information.

It's interesting that Radiohead (who have a reputation of being the "Anti-Corporate band") have grasped the idea of selling the CD-as-object so much more firmly than the Capitalists themselves.

Both Kid A and Amnesiac are desirable objects, firstly because they are sequenced carefully, so that it's more satisfying to listen to the album as a whole rather than individual tracks dowloaded from the internet, secondly the packaging makes the CD as a package something one would want - the "hidden booklet", the "Amnesiac" book - even if they are only "collectors limited editions". Actually it's reminiscent of such hoary old prog albums as Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick, where the packaging was at least as enjoyable as the album. Indeed to modern tastes considerably more so.
posted by Grangousier at 1:29 AM on July 21, 2001


In the old days (he said, leaning on his walking stick, while all the Young People rolled their eyes heavenwards) the adiaphora of an album - nifty packaging, booklets and posters, messages inscribed in the run-off, double grooves, locked grooves - were part of the fun. Just because these things are vinyl-specific is irrelevant. the point is that when one possesses the record, one possesses an object of value, not simply a carrier of information.

Interesting point. Most independent labels still release albums and singles on both vinyl and CD. The artwork for the vinyl release is most times more involved. There is a 12" x 12" canvas to work with, instead of a smaller CD insert, and that's just the outside. I really appreciate labels and bands that try and make their records a cohesive package. This does not make sparsely packaged albums bad, but the attention to detail can take good albums to another level.
posted by ry at 6:41 AM on July 23, 2001


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