Record executives across the country are shaking in their boots.
Billboard Magazine reports that record sales may be the lowest they have been since the early 1970s.
For the week ending May 30, the U.S. music industry sold a total of 4,984,000 albums, according to Nielsen Soundscan. This figure, which includes new and catalog releases, represents the fewest number of albums sold in one week since Soundscan began compiling this data in 1994.
By comparison, album sales for the week ending May 31, 2009, totaled 5.76 million. The highest one-week tally recorded during the Soundscan era is 45.4 million albums, in late December, 2000.
Of course the record labels are only blaming Internet piracy for the low sales and refusing to own up to their own role(s) in the decline of their industry.
Yes. Internet piracy is indeed a problem. But they fail to admit that it’s a problem that they caused. In the late 90s, labels began phasing out the sale of physical singles, believing that this would boost the sale of albums. It makes sense in theory, but seeing as how consumers had been trained for nearly 50 years to buy the songs they heard on the radio on seven-inch slabs of vinyl, Cassingles (remember those?), or CD singles, it left a lot of consumers confused.
They didn’t want to buy Joe Rockstar’s entire album. They just wanted the one song they heard on the radio.
With the phasing out of the commercial single, consumers couldn’t get what they wanted without buying the full album at three to six times the amount they were used to paying. Add to this the fact that musicians were steadily stuffing their albums with as much music as they could, a lot of it simply filler material that consumers didn’t like or even want. People gradually stopped paying upwards of $18 for a CD with only three or four songs they liked on it.
That’s when Napster came in and filled the void left by the music industry.
Consumers could now not only get the one song they wanted, but they could get it without paying for it.
It took several years for the major labels to get their act together and make their product available as file downloads. But it was too late by that point. The damage had been done and was seen by many to be irreparable. An entire generation of young music listeners weren’t used to paying for music anymore, and a habit like that would prove hard to break.
Had the labels embraced the new technology and figured out a way to legitimize it from the beginning, they wouldn’t find themselves weeping over the lowest sales week of the SoundScan era.
The rabbit hole goes much deeper. We could discuss legislation that has been passed that has contributed to the demise of the music business as they knew it, the generation gap between those in charge and those whose money they want, the economic downturn that has affected all industries, or a highly opinionated rant about the declining quality of music over the last 10 years, but it all comes down to an industry that became reactive instead of proactive and is now suffering the consequences.
Good luck finding an exec willing to go on the record to admit that.