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Here Today, Gone Next Week

9 January 2006

Record companies love to complain about how piracy is killing their business. While that discussion has many sides to it, there is one clear reason why so many music fans are losing interest in new music: A lack of quality.

The Internet is rapidly democratizing access to music and useful information about it, which makes it far harder to persuade people to buy and keep buying inferior releases.

This reality is making it especially difficult for music retailers who cannot compete on price with iTunes, eBay, Amazon.com’s zShops used CD shops.

Music fans can read reviews here, on AllMusic.com, on Amazon or any number of sites. And they can listen to parts of, if not whole songs and albums, more than they ever could. In short, the Internet makes for a more transparent world in which the cream increasingly rises to the top and the crap increasingly goes plop.

Last week, we officially learned that 2005 retail CD sales went plop:

The article states:

Music retailers suffered their steepest sales decline in three years during 2005. Compared with 2004—which, in a tic of the calendar, had a 53-week retail year—the market for CDs plunged more than 10%. Based on a 52-week year, sales were down nearly 8%.

When we read about falling CD sales we’re supposed to assume that the quality of the music released never changes. But that’s simply not true. Some years produce better works than others. If the labels released music of a 1967 or 1977 caliber, sales would probably rise.

Can’t the sales drop be primarily blamed on piracy you ask? I don’t think so. What especially caught my eye in this article was the fact that many top-selling artists flamed out like Roman Candles. When music fans do sample some of today’s best-sellers they clearly do not like what they are hearing:

In what is traditionally the critical period for stores, a parade of new titles experienced immediate and sharp sales spikes. In the entire fourth quarter of 2005, only one album enjoyed two consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200: EMINEM’s hits collection “Curtain Call.”

No new release was impervious to speedy sales attrition during the last three months of the year. Country singer GRETCHEN WILSON’s sophomore release “All Jacked Up,” the sequel to her multiplatinum 2004 debut “Here for the Party,” entered at No. 1 in early October with a 263,000-unit week, according to Nielsen SoundScan data. In its second week, sales fell by 54%; its third week saw a 52% drop.

All hacked up is more like it.

R&B luminary ALICIA KEYS’ “Unplugged” bowed at the apex of the chart in October with 196,000 units sold. It plunged 57% its second week, and slid another 40% in its third frame.

Unplugged indeed.

Pop starlet ASHLEE SIMPSON’s second album “I Am Me” arrived at No. 1 in late October with 220,000 units sold. The CD saw drops of 66% and 25% in succeeding weeks.

I am Me? Hmmmmm. Very profound. Too bad Freud didn’t have a crack at that.

Top country performer KENNY CHESNEY’s “The Road and the Radio” climbed to No. 1 in mid-November with a 469,000-unit debut. The title then slid 59% its second week, only regaining ground with a 58% increase in the post-Thanksgiving sales surge.

At least after Turkey Day, Kenny found the road less traveled.

“Confessions on a Dance Floor,” MADONNA’s much-trumpeted return to dance music, hit No. 1 in November behind a 350,000-unit debut stanza. But immediate freefall ensued: The album fell 39% in its second week and 49% in its third.

Not even the ‘Queen of Kabbalah’ was spared.

If you scroll through the comments posted on the Huffington Report in response to this article (granted, an unscientific sampling), an unmistakable pattern emerges.

(Below are some quotes from the Huffington Post reproduced as is, including typos.)

“Stop making formula-based music and start letting some soul in. Look at the O Brother Where Art Thou
soundtrack—-may not be your style of music but you have to admit it’s different and soulful. Also just happens to be one of the biggest sellers of the past few years.”

“Gee..like the movie industry…we get the cries that we didn’t buy enough…it is “our” fault. To Me, there wasn’t much out there that I wanted to buy. Just overall crap and at high prices. At one point I was buying about 50 cds a year..this year I didn’t buy one.”

“We heard the same bullshit in the 80’s when kids were spending their money on coin-op video games instead of
record albums. The music industry simply will not adimt that sales are down because they sell a crap product. It was true in the 80’s and it’s true now.”

“very glad to see lots of people puting their finger
on what i agree is the big problem. that is the insistence of major labels on putting out really bad, not even mediocre just all-out crappy, music. there is a lot of interesting stuff happening on smaller labels that is just perhaps a little too nuanced for clear channel style marketing.”

“I can walk into a record store anywhere and find a JANIS JOPLIN or DOORS CD more than thirty years after their deaths. Somehow I don’t think that will be the case thirty years hence with the current crop of “artists.””

 

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