Monday, September 17, 2012

Music, Books, and the Future of Both

A while ago Dwayne Winseck wrote an article looking at the state of the music industry in Canada. He starts with a graph showing the decline of recorded music revenues (which, admittedly, is rather dramatic) but quickly shows other areas of the music industry as a whole - publishing, live shows, etc. Interestingly enough, each of these other areas are actually growing in revenue, as is the music industry as a whole.

There's lots of blame going around for the so-called decline of the music industry, piracy being chief among them. But Winseck's article shows that music fans are spending money, just in other areas. Why might this be? The proliferation of technologies used to download illegally certainly has something to do with this (along with other factors that have their place in a conversation more in-depth than this), but consider other - legal - uses of technology that have led to this point.

Once upon a time a record label would release an album and, either before or after, treat the wanting public to a single or two. There's no doubt been a time when you've heard a song on the radio without knowing anything else about the rest of the album on which the single was released. If you liked the song, maybe you'd buy the album. If you bought the album, maybe you'd find that the rest of the songs were terrible. The result? Dropping ten or twelve or how ever many dollars on a handful of songs, if that many, that you enjoyed.

Enter Napster and Limewire and, legally, iTunes. No longer were people forced to pay full album price for the one song they wanted. If they only wanted one song, it didn't even have to be the one that was released as a single. They could get exactly what they wanted but for a buck or two, not ten. Convenient, quick, consumer-friendly, legal - and bringing in a fraction of the revenue. Such is the march of progress, but it's not all bad. After all, that money is being spent elsewhere.

The article was timely, because it came out right before Augie De Blieck Jr.'s writeup on Vertigo Comics' "Strange Adventures" anthology. He expressed concerns with the issue since only one of the stories within connected with him. This is a gamble with any sort of anthology or short story collection, and may be an indicator toward their relative decline in recent years. It's a scenario eerily similar to that of singles/albums.

So what's the point of all of this? Technology is rapidly changing the way we consume media and it begs the question of why can't books be next: sell short stories as stand-alone pieces instead of one big book that people don't want to pay for.  It's just one piece of an ever-changing puzzle.  I've already discussed extensively Kickstarter before, and Cory Doctorow is similarly updating his business model.  There will always be a market for collected editions, just as print will never fully and completely give way to digital books. It's an exciting time, and, unlike many of the big media corporations, it's important to jump on board before you get left behind.

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