Monday, August 18, 2003


Globally, music sales have continued to dip as the world recession bites and neurotic popular fashions eat away at the through-put of 'brand-leading recording artists'. Notice that the word 'musician' doesn't even feature in that construction. But the latest figures from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) indicate some significant bright spots. Newer, niche and specialist labels -- remember that HMV classes jazz, classical and world musics as 'specialist' -- are bucking the overall trend as part of a record quarterly upswing at the end of June 2003, following dire warnings of the industry's drift towards collapse in January and February.

Of particular interest is the news from seasoned analysts that Napster and internet downloading seems to have encouraged a 'sampling' generation to broaden their tastes... and buy even more CDs. Part of the trick is that they have forced big labels to cut prices. As Dorian Lynskey comments: "Most music-lovers are prepared to buy the real thing at a fair price... For many years the music business has been greedy, short-sighted and manipulative, inflating prices because it knew the consumer had no alternative. Now, led by pirates, the consumer has the upper hand."

Mind you, internet sampling needs to be distinguished from CD piracy, which is now running at an astonishing 1:4 global ratio. But that is quite different from the bedroom muso facing expensive BPI lawyers for activities that are marginal to the main problem: the swamping of our shelves with boring, unimaginative sounds. Back to those nooks and niches, folks...

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