Darkest before dawn…checking in on the latest music biz stats with some interesting thoughts from Billy Bragg
For the past few weeks I’ve been spending a good deal of time considering the question of, well…what’s next? Not for myself personally mind you, but more global issues as it relates to the presentation and consumption of music. While I’m still not quite ready to drag out the crystal ball, as part of my research I’ve been going through some statistics this morning and catching up on recent music industry news.
Here in no particular order are a few bits of news, numbers and observations:
-Courtesy of Nielsen/SoundScan…the year-to-date album sales have slipped 14% from 2008. So when adding together both digital and physical album sales, units dropped from 291 million to 250 million. Still might sound like a lot of music is being bought and sold but it actually pales to the numbers we saw a decade ago.
-Drilling down a bit, we find that physical album sales still represent the lion’s share at about 79% of the total units sold with digital albums at 21%. But while digital album sales are increasing at a rate of 17%, physical goods are down by 20%. (By the way..these are legal, accounted US sales…remember that as you read further.)
-Here’s where it gets a little more interesting….there have been almost 865 million individual digital tracks sold so far this year, up over 11% from last year. So it would seem that given the option, more folks are interested in single songs and not full albums at this point.
-And for those folks who believe that the return of vinyl album will save the business, there has been a staggering 42.5% increase in sales this year over last. Although it only represents about 6% of all album sales, that’s pretty interesting given that this is a configuration that was dead for almost twenty years.
-According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), 95% of all digital downloads are done illegally. So if I do some rough calculating, that adds back well over a billion albums to the equation which brings us much closer back to those golden oldie pre-digital days.
-And the numbers…if I’m even close to calculating this properly…says that as consumers…whether we pay for it or not…85% of today’s music is digested via digital files. Throw in some streaming numbers, and one could make the case that the revolution has already occurred.
-Over in London last week the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) which says it represents the artist’s community, agreed after lengthy debate to support “technical sanctions against persistent infringers”, meaning those who participate in illegal file-sharing.
Billy Bragg, who is a member of FAC, wrote an interesting open letter which you can click here to read in full. Here’ an excerpt:
The suppression of illegal filesharing is a long-term, highly expensive, technologically fraught strategy with serious implications for personal privacy. It is questionable whether any of the money saved will ever find its way to the artists who have suffered loss of income.
While the recording industry continues to make threatening noises towards kids who swap music files among themselves, our real enemies, the illegal download sites that make money giving our music away for free, are disappearing off the radar into darknets.
This is a war that no one can win.
As the pirates always manage to stay one step ahead of the latest clampdown, the recording industry will continue to ask legislators for ever tighter sanctions, leading ultimately to an internet controlled by and for big business, which can only be accessed by those willing to pay.
The loss to the creative community would be catastrophic. The internet has made it possible for individual artists to make, distribute and promote their own works with the active support of P2P networks. For new artists to flourish, it is vital that the internet remain free to all.