Saturday, September 08, 2007

Pop Economics

I’m a little bit behind in my reading at the moment, so I apologise if this posting sparks an interest in an edition of a publication that is no longer available in print on the newsstands.

I’m very interested in the role of pricing and disruptive technologies, such as Skypes’ impact on traditional telco’s pricing models, or digital photography’s impact on ‘analogue’ photography. Pop Economics, written by Robert Sandall and published in the August 2006 edition of Prospect Magazine is one of the best articles I’ve read on the economics of the music industry.

The articles opens with the story of a band that stops selling their $10 CD’s at concerts because it was cannibalising sales of its $20 t-shirts. I’ve previously spoken about rock ‘n’ roll t-shirt pricing here.

Why did Prince give everyone attending his shows at London’s O2 arena in August, and readers of The Mail on Sunday, a free copy of his Planet Earth CD? The reason is perhaps best summed up by the guitarist from Anthrax, who say “their album are the menu, the concert is the meal”.

In effect, recorded music is becoming a loss leader….but how did the industry get there? Well, apparently it’s partly got itself to blame. Free-to-air radio commenced in the 1930’s. 12” LP’s were the dominant music format until the mid 1960’s when the 7” single took over. Then along came CD’s in the 1980’s, hoping to persuade everyone to replace their vinyl records collections. The “Home Taping is Killing Music” campaign reached its peak in the 1980’s and by 1994 the CD had become more popular than cassette tapes, which had sparked that campaign. But, as the article discusses, record companies were selling CDs and giving away their master tapes. And of course, we then get into Napster and iTunes, which brings us up-to-date.

So while the pressure on recorded music pricing has been all downwards, it’s the opposite in live music: the trend has all be upwards, and I’ve also commented about this in other blog postings, as does Pop Economics: in the 1980’s the price differential between a Madonna CD and a ticket to one of her concerts was negligible. A ticket to see her at Wembley last summer was more than twice the price of her entire back catalogue.

The last paragraph of the article is one that I’d like to quote in full, because not only does it apply to pop economics, it also applies to many Web 2.0 sites, which I’ve also written about in the past. It reads:

In his book e-Topia, William Mitchell relates the increasing value of shared
experience to the isolated nature of electronic or online virtual worlds. “in
conducting our daily transactions, we will find ourselves constantly considering
the benefits of the different grades of presence that are now available to us,
and weighting these against the costs” he writes. Being in the same place at the
same time as a live performance, music fans appear to have decided, is the
rarest and most precious presence of all.


David Egan said...

It seems the movie industry is following a similar path. More often or not now the cinema release is just the warm up for the DVD sales. Take for example last years Australian success, Kenny. Within weeks of it's cinema release (one where word of mouth was strong, evidenced by stronger sales each week after release) it was on DVD. The perfect gift for Christmas. DVD's are a great stocking filler. Awareness is created by the cinema release, they are not too worried about small box office takings as DVD sales continue to grow.

An article in The Melbourne Age in 2004 talked about the value of DVD to cinemas.

Jon said...

Speaking of "Kenny", there is a great pricing scene in that movie, where Kenny is haggling with some Asian businessmen.