By Elizabeth Barfoot Christian
What do liquor, lottery tickets and music have in common? Despite a worsening economy, all have seen a boost in sales in 2011. For the music industry, it’s an event almost as unbelievable as winning the Lotto.
The last year the recording industry boasted a profit was 2004—and that was a brief respite from an otherwise abysmal decade, according to CNN Money. A $15-billion industry in 1999, the recording industry reported less than half that 10 years later in 2009 to just more than $6.3 billion.
If this year’s trend continues, the American music industry is in good shape to end the year in the black.
One explanation for the near 20 percent jump in digital album sales (up from 13.5 percent last year, according to Billboard), is the closure of another major peer-to-peer file sharing network. LimeWire shut down the end of 2010, and sales increased immediately.
Unfortunately, this is just one piece of the pie. Now the music business must redirect consumers who lost the ease of the CD but never found anything to replace it with toward purchasing digital music. In addition, the industry hasn’t done well thus far competing against illegal sites for ease of availability of ringtones and videos. Unless it wants to become completely irrelevant, the music industry needs to come to the table with YouTube, Pandora and other Internet retailers and brainstorm ways to make music purchases easy and legal for consumers of all ages and demographics. The industry may blame P2P sharing for its failings, but it has truly been its own worst enemy—even threatening to charge radio stations a tax to play a song. Seriously? Um, physician—it’s time to heal thyself! And the time is now, while profits are rolling in the deep ... or at least not in as shallow as the last seven years.
Ironically, the first album of 2011 to hit 1 million downloads in July was Eminem’s Recovery, the second, Adele’s 21, which did it and became the best-selling album of the year just one week later. Do I sense a theme here? So . . . . anyone releasing a new album titled Jackpot this year?
This is the last blog in a 12-month series on music marketing in the United States. The author wishes to thank Rowman & Littlefield, Lexington Books and Lenore Lautigar for the opportunity to share her wit and wisdom on the ever-changing music and pop culture media over the past year. The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elizabeth B. Christian is assistant professor of journalism at Louisiana Tech University. Her book Rock Brands: Selling Sound in a Media Saturated Culture was rated "Highly Recommended" by Choice.