unbundling sux

Coolfer is worried about growth of album sales at the expense of singles sales:

In a perfect world (from the artist point of view) bands would sell only albums. More revenue than what they get from unbundled albums. But that’s not how the world works any longer.

Music Week has a report on a Music Tank panel titled “Lets Sell Recorded Music” in which renowned artist manager Peter Jenner lashed out at the changed brought by iTunes. The store, he said, has “had the disastrous effect on the record industry of debundling the album” and letting fans choose two singles instead of a full album.

That’s pretty much the conclusion I came to in a quick-and-dirty Excel computation of album-for-tracks substitution. Since the launch of iTunes, the loss of every additional album (beyond the rate of loss before iTunes launched) was replaced with 1.38 track downloads.

I don’t get it. Users don’t *want* to download singles.

– They don’t want to download at all. What they want is to listen. Downloading is labor.

– And they don’t want to do that labor one piece at a time — much better to download an album’s worth of songs.

– They’re not listening that much less, if at all. The number of listening hours in the day may have gone down, but not at the rate of 1.38 (song downloads now vs album downloads before)/13 (songs per album).

– And they’re not playing the same song more times. It’s not an issue of how many songs they want to listen to, it’s an issue of how many songs are able to motivate people to put up with the iTunes Music Store.

Unbundling should only hurt musicians (and record businesses) who were sneaking crappy songs into albums that contained hits, and this was always an unfair way to make money. Whatever the problem is here, it’s temporary. The market is in the process of adjusting. For now the listeners need to really really love a song for the song to move a lot of transactions at pay-per-download stores.

My best guess about what’s going on is that all the rest of the listening hours are filled with fileshared music. Maybe the deal is that paying is optional, and listeners are only choosing to do it for songs they actively love, meaning that going to the iTunes music store might be a form of tipping.

5 thoughts on “unbundling sux

  1. I think it’s a contraction of “When people are trying to obtain a particular song, they’d prefer to be able to obtain just that song, if they don’t also want the benefit or expense of obtaining the album in order to do so”.

    This has been contracted into “People want to download singles”.

    I can agree that whilst some peculiar people might like visiting the record shop or scouring the file sharing cloud, many would prefer that they could have instant access to any song ever recorded simply by thinking of it (or at most typing its name).

    Even better would be for music, previously heard or not, to be automatically played to them according to what they’d most enjoy at any moment, without even thinking about it, and with such a service provided free of charge.

    How are musicians to make money then?

    Well, those who wish their favourite musicians to produce more music will pay them to do so.

    Music should be a pleasure. So should making it, but those who obtain pleasure will be glad to reward the efforts of those who produce it – given it is not without effort.

    The whole album vs single controversy results from the music=copy delusion (publishers looking at the bottom line in sales of copies).

    One might have albums a la Pink Floyd that retain aesthetic integrity and some degree of continuity as a whole, or one can simply have an arbitrary collection of singles. The collection of singles has little life left except as a means of transporting the files. However, even in the future, the only thing the album as coherent work has against it is the longer attention span it requires to appreciate it.

  2. While users aren’t listening to the same song more times, they do, for the first time, have a much larger library of potential things to listen to — all six million songs on iTunes, etc. In that context all but the best songs by each artist are filler; the standard is simply higher. “music, previously heard or not, to be automatically played to them according to what they’d most enjoy at any moment,” as Crosbie describes it, is pretty much the order of the day, whether it be via the iTunes “genius” suggestions, blogs and blog aggregators, listening services such as Pandora, Amazon’s recommendation engine, etc. Even if these suggestion algorithms are less than perfect, with six million plus songs to choose from they’re going to do better than pretty much any individual album.

    The only argument remaining in favor of albums is on the production side rather than the consumption side. Once you’re setup to write and record some songs — once you’ve gotten a band together, figured out a style written some songs, and put together the situation to record them — you might as well do more than just your one or two best. Until the marginal cost of recording and collaborating falls so low as to change this logic, you’ll still see albums no matter listeners desire to consume artists’ less-than-best work.

  3. On reviewing it, I’d add to my own argument above this item: since songs are so much more easily distributed, shared, and linked than albums, word-of-mouth and friend suggestions, probably the most powerful new music adoption force also favor individual songs over albums.

  4. I believe that eventually an on-demand source of streaming can be organized without a user subscription, based on an advertising model.
    I also believe that flexible arrays of music in unconventional packages like zip drives once the CD-centric consciousness of the major labels is finally withered.

  5. Don’t forget there is a special forthcoming occasion to celebrate.

    This is the day when the data size/storage cost gets to a level at which a 50 SuperDVD spindle pack is able to contain every CD ever released in 320kbps MP3 files.

    There will of course be thousands of MP3s released online by that time, but having a pack of all the music produced on CD will be useful.

    Shall we call this occasion the CD-Singularity?

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