The Death Of The Music Industry

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Very good infographic from the New York Times conveys the dwindling death knells of the music industry. Analysts give it 10 years.

The Death Of The Music Industry

(This is slightly poorly labelled IMHO. Years go across from left to right. And where’s the colour?)

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  • Cor Blimey

    interesting that singles downloads are almost double that of albums. I’ve believed in the last year or two that modern music consumption is shifting towards individual bitesize songs, ushered in by the likes of mp3blogs, and that attention spans constantly move towards immediacy rather than albums. Interesting to see something to, possibly, back that up.

  • SaschaP

    Download Single must not mean “Download actual hit single”… you also download a “single” when you download an oldie from 1960. “Download album” is explicit when you downloading a whole album.

    And that many people download single songs of an interpret, well, in my opinion, it’s not so unnormal.

  • Peter Berger

    Interesting to see that pre-Internet, every technology yielded more revenue than it’s predecessor. Vinly generated more revenue than 8-track, cassettes more than vinyl, and CDs did much more than either.

    Then Napster came along and changed everything. Now people feel entitled to music and generally will not pay for it. I guarantee that people aren’t listening to less music now than they did when CDs were high tech. It’s just that people aren’t paying for what they listen to any more.

    It’s sad that theft became so common that now it’s the norm rather than the exception.

    • Tim

      No, it’s sad that you assume it’s down to theft.

      Bit Hint: there’s no product with an mp3 file, while CDs, tapes, merchandise etc are all tangible.

  • Tuism

    They need a whole waveform for Michael Jackson sales :)

  • Torrio

    I think in the future music will be free and artists will make money through publishing,merch and touring. Who knows. It is crazy how things work!


  • Alex / HeadUp

    Have to keep in mind that these statistics are all from the RIAA, of course they were doing just fine back in the 70s when they controlled the format, but the onset of the internet not only killed that with the mp3, but also enabled thousands upon thousands of labels and musicians to get their music out there just as easily (tho not always as prominently) as the major labels.

    The playing field has been leveled considerably and I don’t think this infographic does a good job at illustrating the current state of affairs, but it does do a good job at showing how things used to measure up and how different the market has become since the turn of the century.

  • Jeremy Meyers

    @Peter: Each format built upon the previous one because people in each case ended up re-purchasing their favorites on the new format, as there was usually some sound quality/portability advantage. That’s also why the ‘top selling albums of all time’ chart has stayed pretty much the same.

    “Singles” means “Single Tracks”, not “radio singles”

    This infograph is misleading in that it measures in revenue, not units sold. CD was more expensive than Cassette, etc.

  • Alex Zuzin

    A bit misleading – the RIAA no longer equals “music industry” in any meaningful way.
    This requires matching charts for touring and merch over time, at the very least, otherwise we’re getting perilously close to “lies, damn lies and statistics” territory.

  • EspressoFrog

    hang on, there is also a practical aspect. When was the last time you ever saw anyone carrying a Sony Discman CD player in one hand and a stack of 5 CDs in the other ?
    Do you remember when the rich guy was the guy that had that CD changer box installed into the boot of his car, a £3000 marvel that allowed its owner to play up to 6 CDs ?!
    It’s all gone now, people just don;’t like to walk around with clunky things, things went for the more practical and mp3 players just offered that. Record companies have completely missed the point and blamed the problem on piracy. It’s not piracy, it’s all about technologies.

  • Jonas Woost

    Every two months or so someone comes up to me and tries to convince me that “vinyl is back”. I think it obvious from this that there are always fluctuations in the vinyl sales (single or album) but for the overall music ecosystem they are not relevant.

    However if we could zoom into the LP/EP graph we might see some interesting developments.

  • Voicedude

    What this will ALSO do, sadly, is bring back a full-fledged return of Payola (labels bribing the radio stations on what they play. Not that it ever completely went away, of course.

    Read Frederick Tannen’s “Hit Men” for enlightenment…

  • Bill Stella (Bill Realman Stella)

    The comment about the RIAA only scratches the surface of the questions I have about this graphic, re: the accuracy of the information, given the source.

    Does this graphic represent ONLY sales from RIAA members?

    My understanding is that the boom in independent labels over the last decade count for MANY millions of CD and other format sales each year. Are these sales counted in RIAA data? Do they show up on charts?

    When things are the way they are now, with tens of thousands (at least) of recording artists releasing their own music, how much of that ever appears in the statistics the old mainstream represents as “the music industry”?

    Has ANYONE ever made a concerted effort to estimate the amount of sales from “the long tail”?

    My guess is that the indie explosion over the last decade or so has not kept up with the amount of sales lost by the majors over the same period. But neither do I think that the music industry is dying! The old mainstream music industry is a shell of its former self, and the new mainstream IS the indie world with its multiple revenue streams, with online and at-concert sales replacing record store sales (and eliminating the cut the music industry used to take from the indie musician). I do think that a lot more unreported and underreported sales occur than anyone in the old mainstream is willing to concede or even look at.

    One doesn’t hear about this because there is no organization plying the media with press releases on behalf of the otherwise unrelated plethora of recording artists unaffiliated with the RIAA.

    PS: About a year ago I had a dialog with people working at the indie music co-op retailer website and, long story short, without giving exact sales, they confirmed that they sold about a million CDs. They alone sold a million independent CDs! I don’t know for sure, but I very much doubt that figure is part of the chart above.

  • Mickey Mouse RIAA

    Enjoyment of the general public to listen to music freely instead of being fed promos from the radio and producers.

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  • ranndino

    The train has left the station a while ago, yet the music industry execs refuse to accept reality and are still trying to reel it in on one of these…

    Good luck.

  • Jonesyl1

    I like to think about the influence this could have on the quality of music. It’s important to remember that the “music business” or the RIAA has longed controlled what is heard to the best of its abilities in order to make the buying process more predictable. This has resulted in the formulaic pop songs that permeate our world, and line their pockets. While this effect cannot be undone, it is interesting to think how popular music may now change without the yoke hand of the “music business.”

    If musical or artistic merit becomes more popular then it would also become more profitable and shift consumption in it’s favor resulting in an entirely different market for “popular music.”

  • Susan

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  • G-Rock

    This chart seems a bit lame. i.e. the CD sales can’t be correct because I’ve purchased 3 of them within the last 3 months. There should be a trail continuing to the right.

  • Andy

    Would be interesting to see the equivalent for video formats…
    eg VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc, DVD, HD-DVD, Blu-Ray, downloads…

  • xmas presents

    I was shocked at the first look of the heading of this post. I see news about the health of the music industry as defined by the stock price of WMG or quarterly earnings of UMG, Sony, and EMI every day. What I don’t see, apart from a few articles on Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, is an update on how the world is changing from the artist point of view. But I tell you, when I talk to managers and artists they feel it, they feel an ability to take their careers into their own hands, to redefine what success means for them, and that is the emergence of the new music business.

  • Dave Kusek

    You capture “The Death of the Recording Industry” quite well with this succinct infographic. However I can report that the music industry is alive and well with more people creating and enjoying music than ever before. There is a renaissance of the indie artist happening today with direct to fan marketing, online distribution of music, and the development of communities of like minded fans sharing music. What the infographic fails to show it the explosion of digitally distributed songs for free, which would be a fantastic addition to the chart, and would more accurately show what has happened to recorded music.

  • GavinSR

    Interesting graphic. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that CD sales have dropped off so dramatically with the ease of use of MP3 players etc etc. Although this may signify the beginning of the end for the ‘music industry’ (i.e. the huge money making side of music) I think the ways people can get there music out to the public these days makes it quite an exciting time for people creating new music.

  • Hop Boy

    I’m surprised that no one mentioned that most of the music being offered to the public these days is pure CRAP! Why would I want to buty any of tha?
    I come from the generation that spawned the “supergroups” like Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Who, Jethro Tull, Allman Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughan etc – groups & acts that actually made long lasting imprints on future generations
    They were people who could actually play and sing their instuments at the same time.
    They didnt need big flashy shows to sell their products. Concerts were cultural happenings. You just dont se this in the industry anymore.

  • Hop Boy

    I fixed some spelling mistakes in my previous post:

    I’m surprised that no one mentioned that most of the music being offered to the public these days is pure CRAP! Why would I want to buy any of that?
    I come from the generation that spawned the “supergroups” like Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Who, Jethro Tull, Allman Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughan etc – groups & acts that actually made long lasting imprints on future generations
    They were people who could actually play and sing their instuments at the same time.
    They didnt need big flashy shows to sell their products. Concerts were cultural happenings. You just dont see this in the industry anymore.

  • Pantoum

    Keep in mind that it was precisely the media companies (Sony, Phillips, etc) that pushed the envelope of music technology as fast and aggressively as possible. They were the ones who pushed for digital transition with the advent of CD’s, minidiscs, and DAT’s. They made millions from selling blank CD’s, CD recorders, and media recording software. These giant media companies basically cannibalized themselves. Even before the digital transition, these companies sold tons of blank cassettes.

  • SpikerBuck&theVelvet

    I want to be paid as a musician. Should they make Mp3 format license-able so that artists are not being screwed by copyright infringement?

  • Daniel Llewellyn

    Office for National Statistics 13_05 tells a slightly different story for the UK.

    Single sales hit a trough in 2003 and have been increasing ever since.

  • Daniel Llewellyn

    Add the volumes up and we get this.

    More music about now than even in @Hop Boys golden era.

  • electronica ugo

    well, i guess i better practice my guitar skills and start touring then, because that’s all that’s gonna be left to buy m&m’s.