How are we spending that $4.2 billion?

Chuck Klosterman breaks it down. This is the guy who described the process of remastering albums as “somebody went back in the studio and made them louder.” His tolerance for bullshit is low, bordering on sociopathic.

And now, in his column for Esquire, Klosterman explains why kids stopped paying for music: “because they wanted the fucking money.”

Whenever writers try to explain the collapse of the music industry, they inevitably blame the labels themselves; they point out how wasteful and inefficient the corporate structure was at places like Elektra and Chrysalis, and how unfair it is to charge kids so many dollars for a disc that costs pennies to make, and that modern consumers have come to the realization that “music longs to be free.” This may all be true, but I’m not sure it’s a viable explanation for things like huge layoffs at Def Jam. Lots of industries succeed despite being poorly modeled. What happened is this: Young people needed more money to pay for their rising levels of self-imposed debt, so they unconsciously gravitated toward the first technology that provided a cost-saving alternative. Because four-minute digital-song files are relatively small (and thus easily compressed), ripping tracks for free became the easiest way to eliminate an extraneous cost. It wasn’t political or countercultural, and it had almost nothing to do with music itself. It was fiscally practical. It was the first, best solution.

So how are you spending the cash you used to blow on music? Do you buy more videogames and DVDs than you did ten years ago?

Via percolator.

12 thoughts on “How are we spending that $4.2 billion?”

  1. Chucky K. isn’t wrong; it is entirely true that “kids” were being economical, but the compact disc itself shares some of the blame.

    We wouldn’t have seen this torrential rate of piracy if the industry had stuck with records or cassettes. The fact is that industry officials saw a technological advancement that stood to make them a lot of quick money, but they didn’t consider that at some point, consumer technology would improve to a point where their product would be so easily copied.

    The revolutionary prospects of optical media were no secret to just about anyone interested in computers in the 90s. The record industry just didn’t get the message–or they ignored it. That’s understandable, though, I guess.

    The thing is, well before MP3s, I’d figured out how to import a 50MB track from a CD into QuickTime (File > Save). The problem was my damn 250MB hard drive. Who’d have thought that hard drive capacity would increase and then CDRs would follow? There certainly wasn’t a demand for either of those things. :|

  2. Pricing was one factor, but the best thing about piracy was the ease-of-use. Napster, and then Audiogalaxy, provided a “shopping” experience that has still yet to be achieved in the legitimate music marketplace. You have access to all the studio recordings, all the bootlegs, all the everything, in one place, with a direct access from the comfort of your own home.

    I buy more glono t-shirts

  3. “Pricing was one factor, but the best thing about piracy was the ease-of-use.”

    This was Steve Jobs’ argument to the majors in launching iTunes. He basically said that people WILL buy music online if it’s easy, affordable, and safe. I think he’s been proven right.

    The labels need to open their eyes though to the fact that they are sitting on massive amounts of material that people will pay for. Your point about boots, ottakes, etc. and the fact that the Beatles Anthologies sold relatively well (despite being inferior to many, many bootlegs out there) is dead on.

  4. It makes no sense to pay for something that you can get for free. The question is – why do labels continue to think that trying to squeeze every last cent out of recordings is the best model? That’s so 20th Century. They should get out of the business of selling recordings and use the recordings as a basis for attracting customers into purchasing things that can’t be represented digitally (merchandise / concert tickets, etc.).

  5. I spend my music ca$h on LittleDudeMurph and BabyGirlMurph, and a casa in the ‘burbs of Chgo with the beautiful Mrs. Murph. I’m lucky if my entertainment purchases come out to two a month. I know; poor Murph (gag).

    Times change; so do spending habits. Still don’t know if “just because we can” is justification enough for all the mass piracy we’ve done and still do. A little voice in my head says it isn’t.

    The other voices say things which don’t need to be printed…

  6. My theory is that kids steal music because they can.

    I admit it’s not a complicated theory.

    Personally, I buy more CDs now than I did ten years ago, because it’s easier to find cool stuff than it used to be. But I am something of a Luddite that way. If mp3s sounded better than CDs I would consider switching formats. Until then, I’ll buy CDs to listen to at home, and rip my own mp3s for portability.

  7. In his book Confessions of a Record Producer, music biz insider Moses Avalon–not his real name–wondered if the box of cereal was merely the bait to entice you into buying the toy inside. For many artists–established and otherwise– touring is more and more, from a financial standpoint, about the selling of merch. (Btw, the instances of people not paying, say, $15 for a CD but shelling out that much and even more for a vinyl version of the same is growing.) And any artist signing a record deal these days surely has to give up a slice of their merch revenue and maybe even a piece of their touring income. Welcome to the 1950s!

    Derek, I read somewhere–was it on GloNo?–that Warner Bros was going to make available online their entire out-of-print catalog. There’s a lot of that music people want and would gladly purchase directly from them, and no printing or advertising costs would be involved.

    Which brings me to what a record store-owning friend told me last year: he theorized that if the majors wise up they will find a way to cut out the middleman–iTunes, etc–and sell directly to the consumer in whatever digital format we want. “You want Bob Dylan? Come to We got him exclusively.”

Leave a Reply