Tuesday, April 16, 2002

A FIVE PER CENT FALL IN THE MIDST OF ALL THIS: So, world music sales fell by five per cent last year - the first time since the CD was foisted upon us that the number of units sold has dropped, for example. Of course, the big companies are using this as a reason to call for even more cracking down on "pirating", with a mix of sleight of hand ("If nobody is buying records, it must be because they're stealing them") and obvious utter bollocks ("Since Linkin Park was the best-selling album in 2001 and yet sold less than five million copies, we can conclude there are four million pirated copies circulating in the US.") But, as we've said before, this is ignoring other factors. There is a grudging acknowledgment made that there has been an economic turndown, but this is being cited as making a bad situation worse, rather than the root cause. Oh, yeah? Music-as-a-mass-commodity - the way most people experience it, like sugar or beer, not the way we do - is a luxury. In hard times, people will simply cut back on their CD purchases. Since very few people buy more than a solitary album a month - if that - even if they drop one purchase, you're looking at quite a huge percentage drop. Then, you've got accept that nearly everybody who used to have a vinyl player will, by now, however reluctantly have upgraded to CD. Even people who think that the Unabomber was a bit too flashily cutting edge with his use of hammers and chairs did, a couple of years ago, recognise it was time to get something to play their Cat Stevens records on. For the past decade, the record industry has been artificially boosting its sales by flogging stuff for a second time. And while that gravy train has come to an end, the film industry has kicked off its version of the great CD bonanza, with the launch of DVD. Suddenly, cash is being swapped from buying records to replacing perfectly adequate VHS tapes with the exact same thing on DVD. That's gotta hurt music sales.
But, more crucially, the fall in sales - especially in the US - is clearly down to a critical decline in quality. In 2000, there was an N"Sync album, the Marshall Mathers album, Opps I Did It Again, the Beatles Number Ones. Last year, there was a less-than-alluring new Britney, another N'Sync, already past their best, Linkin Park, for god's sake. Alicia Keys is being touted as a genius, which shows just how dry the well has run in the past twelve months. People might still want to buy music, but there's precious little to buy.
The most interesting thing about the sales charts for the previous two years is the performance of the american version of Now That's What I Call Music... - in 2000, volume 5 sold just over three million copies, putting it at 17. The next year, volume six sold the same number, but was at number 10. Since you'd imagine that the sort of people who only want the singles are the types who'd be most likely to resort to taping off their computers, the fact that Now has kept its sales up seems to point out what a bunch of liars there are at Sony and Universal these days.
Of course, the truth doesn't matter - the downturn will be used as justification for putting out more shabby records that don't work properly - um, sorry, copy protected "compact discs" - and even more dubious acts, such as the tarriffs imposed against Ukraine by the US as a "punishment" for failing to control piracy in the country. This is an interesting concept in itself - the Bush administration having foreign policy dictated to them by the music industry - and raises a glorious possibility of precedent. Because, since the record industry are claiming that four million fake versions of Linkin Park's hybrid theory were created, and are circulating, in the US, surely the States should be taking action against themselves?

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