It’s probably only the over 40s who remember buying LPs. Those 12 inches of vinyl pleasure that sat in rows and racks in record shops and which spotty teenagers used to leaf through before parting with about two quid (I told you it was a long time ago) for Led Zeppelin’s latest. Now, the world is different and digital rules. In fact, since a man first appeared on Tomorrow’s World, demonstrating that you could even play a CD after smearing it with jam, the music industry has had to face up to ever changing technology, starting with the cassette, the ill-fated mini-discs, 8-tracks and CDs, before settling on what is, for the time being, the medium of choice, to wit, digitally-streamed music.
Today, or rather in the last few weeks, it’s reported that digital music revenues have overtaken physical sales for the first time. This is largely due to the huge increase in the numbers taking out subscriptions to the likes of Spotify.
Another triumph for the digital industry? Well, the answer depends on where you sit. If you’re the aforementioned spotty teenager (or, indeed the spotty teenager’s dad), then you are probably very happy indeed to pay £5 or so per month for unlimited access to much of the world’s music. Spotify like this too.
On the other hand, if you are a record industry executive you may not be quite so sanguine. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) is of the view that the music industry is, to quote Frances Moore, their CEO, “on the road to recovery”, although the “path was never going to be straight, but (the industry is making great strides along it”. This optimism is undermined by a number of less optimistic figures, namely that that overall revenues from music in 2014 were more or less flat compared to 2013, falling 0.4pc to $14.97bn. This was after a 3.9% decline the previous year.
The problem here is not the technology itself; it’s the people who take advantage of technology. Unsurprisingly, the IFPI said “more had to be done” to support its members, specifically a clamp down on content-hosting platforms such as YouTube and Daily Motion that, they claim, take advantage of exemptions from copyright law. Add in our friend the spotty teenager who simply sees nothing wrong with ‘acquiring’ music online for free and you can see that it’s not all wine and roses, as it was in previous, less technological, times. The money going to the record companies and their artists is less than it was and as a result some musicians are looking for alternative distribution channels. Expect to find the law of unforeseen consequences to kick-in as well, with Apple likely to introduce a subscription service sooner or later, thus, perhaps, hastening the decline in paid-for downloads from iTunes?
And what, I hear you ask, does this have to do with IT recruitment? Well, nothing directly, but for all our brilliant IT start-ups and embryonic businesses that will power the economy for years to come it is worth considering that sometimes their work will have profound social effects and unintended consequences that aren’t immediately obvious. To illustrate this, consider where we began; with the vinyl record. Sales of vinyl LPs have actually increased in the last year. Many people think that vinyl provides warmer, better sound than digital (they’re probably right), but I’m afraid that it’s a bit like steam trains – great in their day, lovely to look at and listen to, but not suited to the modern world. If you want your tech company to succeed, remember not to develop the digital equivalent of a steam train…
Gareth Biggerstaff, MD, Be-IT Resourcing