Sunday, February 20, 2011

Billboard, NPR See Dismal View Of Music Market From Neilsen Soundscan - Or, The Revolution Will Not Be Blogged

Except the revolution will be blogged by me, and at a few other obscure locations. First, as reported in papers like The Knoxville News Sentinel, vinyl record sales increased 14% last year, and was the only sector to see double-digit growth (digital downloads were the other sector to see growth at 2.3%).

The larger entertainment news outlets like Billboard and NPR spun the 14% figure as reason to decry the death of music sales, which over all were flat, pointing out that 14% is not the 33% growth vinyl saw in 2009, and that this meant the sure demise of all music formats, and that no one would be writing about the rebirth of vinyl anymore.

Here are three raw facts:

1. Neilsen figures depend on voluntary reporting.

2. None of its figures include online or retail sales of used vinyl or CDs.

3. Anecdotally, I reliably sell for $5.00 common 45 RPM records that can be downloaded for $1.00.

These common 45's include such records as Andy Gibb's "Shadow Dancing". Yes, Andy Gibb's "Shadow Dancing". And, my $5.00 average does not include the rare and collectible Soul or Psych records either.

The above three facts suggest that music as a retail business has not died, but rather has moved from orgiastic labels and distributors to a cottage industry of part-time and full-time sellers of used vinyl and CDs, and a growing number of innovative independent stores. The labels and distributors complain about online theft of digital downloads, and I will grant that this has impacted my business as well. However, I propose that sellers like me have dealt the more destructive blow upon the old guard music industry.

Vinyl is a popular format, and the demand is great. But there is no room for vinyl in big box retail trade. At no time again will there ever be the opportunity for distributors to sell a 7" 45 or 12" LP in a Sears and Walmart. Not that vinyl wouldn't sell. Walmart and Target both carry retro-turntables. For the format end, Big box retail space is too expensive to support a commercial return to vinyl as a retail item. Records are too big, and too heavy.

Best Buy and one or two other large retailers dabble in vinyl as a boutique item. But in no way could retail space be given over to support the music industry as it was known.

So the labels complain about illegal downloads, and occasionally they complain about the used market, as do some artists, because no royalties are paid from used sales. The Supreme Court decided that issue over a century ago and has consistently taken the same position since. I can sell whatever the hell I own, for whatever reason I own it, and its nobody's business. Copyright law was never meant to be a cash cow for an industry or an individual. The original intent was to allow an artist to benefit in the short term before the work was let to benefit all.

Journalists will trope about record dealer scum. Talk about vinyl record sales as a brief twenty-first century anomaly. I see as few feeling obligated to believe them as feel obligated to reliably pay for their downloads. Right now, vinyl does three undeniable things all of which should be impossible, or at least scrape hard against the grain of conventional wisdom - first, keeps those who love music buying music - second, keeps those who are knowing and grubby employed - and third, keeps the factories that press vinyl at near capacity.

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