Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Guest post – 500 Words of Summer – Mumblin’ Deaf Ro

Anyone who follows the music business or technology threads on OTR will have come across the erudite, considered and articulate views of regular poster Ronan Hession AKA Mumblin’ Deaf Ro. When I was putting together the prospective list of writers …

Tue, Aug 10, 2010, 09:23

   

Anyone who follows the music business or technology threads on OTR will have come across the erudite, considered and articulate views of regular poster Ronan Hession AKA Mumblin’ Deaf Ro. When I was putting together the prospective list of writers for the 500 Words of Summer series, Ronan’s name was the first one on the page. Here, he goes data-mining to inject some truths into one never-ending music business debate of our time.

The debate about the effect of illegal downloading on album sales is characterised by passion, vested interests and a shoal of red herrings. Arguments based on opinion without reference to the available evidence make the worst possible combination: a swamp and a battlefield.

Why not put the figures on the table so you can make up your own mind about what you think is happening?

Despite waning sales, the industry today enjoys a level of physical sales in excess of that which prevailed during Beatlemania or in the Thriller-era MTV heyday. US sales of physical formats are higher now than at any time in the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s, and were only better during the once-in-a-generation format change to CDs in the 1990s.

In real terms, the price of an album in the US has not changed since about 1980.

The age profile of US music buyers has remained largely unchanged (or at least within the survey margin for error) for the past ten years with over 45s the dominant purchasers – teenagers were a small part of the market before and remain so now.

Total UK album sales have held up remarkably well in the decade since Napster and iTunes were born. Album sales by volume fell just 4 per cent between 2000 and 2009, with digital albums making up only 12.5 per cent of the 130 million albums sold in 2009. This is a strong performance when you consider that 2009 saw the demise of UK chains Zavi and Woolworth’s and the collapse of wholesaler Entertainment UK, supplier to 40 per cent of the retail market.

UK digital album sales grew by 65 per cent in 2008 and a further 60 per cent in 2009 and now stand at 16 million. If illegal downloading was harming the industry, why would the sale of paid-for downloads be booming?

Legitimate digital downloading has supplanted the singles chart in the UK with a healthy replacement market in bite-sized music consumption. The number of single songs (not necessarily singles) sold has trebled since 2000, with over 98 per cent of single songs now sold on digital format.

The 2009 global revenue trends show a 7.2 per cent drop from the previous year, but 80 per cent of this is attributable to the US and Japan. Global digital music sales rose by 9.2 per cent in 2009 and now account for 25.3 per cent of all trade revenues to record companies. More than 30 countries saw double-digit growth rates in digital sales, and 17 markets, including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Singapore, Sweden and UK, saw digital sales grow by more than 40 per cent.

It is hard to draw a clear conclusion from the crossfire of causes and effects in the industry at the moment, but the case against the illegal downloading bogeyman is as yet unproven. Two points seem obvious. First, digital business is growing faster than physical sales are dying. Second, until now 80 per cent of business has been done in the US, UK and Japan, but the strong growth in digital sales in newer markets suggests that record companies need to stock up on their Lonely Planets and get out there to start reaching their new customers.

The credits: Mumblin’ Deaf Ro has released two albums “Senor, My Friend . . .” (2003) and “The Herring and the Brine” (2007).  Ro is nearly finished writing his next album “Dictionary Crimes”, which is taking bloody ages but which will be released in 2011.

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