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Format Pesto

Basil-Image courtesy of James Barker at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With music sales in overall decline I find myself wondering about what format are people listing to music on today and, probably more importantly, what will it be in the future? Will it be digital via streaming and downloads etc.or physical CD, vinyl or some other touchable format?

Looking at music sales today the lovers of the depth and warmth that arguably can only come from an LP are a growing market force again with sales of LPs on the increase. We are not talking about the diehards that never stopped buying LPs finding financial freedom as their kids stand on their own two financial feet, but new followers. The funniest article I read had one of the younger lovers of vinyl being asked why they didn’t buy CDs only to be hit with the reply “CDs? My dad listens to CDs — why would I do that?”. Even funnier (well to me anyway) is that I can also picture their parents doing the same about vinyl when tape and then CDs first came out.

There seems to be a considerable amount of debate on how much of the market vinyl sales currently holds, however, one thing everyone seems to agree on is that it is a growing small percentage.

CD sales I find quite interesting as sales have been declining for some time now but still holds a commanding share of the overall market. The launch of AutoRip by Amazon where you get a free MP3 version of whatever CD or LP you buy provided it is licenced for AutoRip, has also had an interesting impact so far. It seems to have given some new life to CD sales with reports from the US, where AutoRip was first launched, indicating that CDs that are licensed for AutioRip seeing faster sales than those that are not.

So we have an increase of CD sales in a decreasing CD sales market!? Such a simple idea it is more amazing to me that it has not been done until now. Well HMV did try offering downloads with physical purchases but failed to capture our attention enough to save it’s skin. Remarkably HMV went into administration the same month that AutoRip launched in the US. It just goes to show that the age old factors of marketing, timing and who you are and what you represent in the eyes of the customer, i.e. your branding, still hold true.

So are CD sales going to make a recovery? Or is this just a fantastic idea that will slow the death of CDs, help vinyl sales grow a little bit faster, and buy everyone more time to figure out what the future format of music sales will be?

Looking at download and streaming we can see that subscription services are the fastest growing part of digital music sales. However, there is turbulence out there with the some artists pulling from music-streaming service Spotify in protest at how much it pays. Will the future of the music industry be determined by what format pays artists the fairest rates? Or will we be left with the choice of either maintaining a number of different formats to be able to listen to all the music we want or resigning to missing out on some music that we would otherwise like just because it is not available in our chosen format?

Many of us have been maintain various different formats for a long time. I have LPs, CDs, downloads etc. The odd thing to me is that I remember recording my LPs to tape so I could listen to them on a Walkman or in the car. Today I use a Sedly phono stage with a USB output to record LPs to my Morpheus server, or rip my CD collection directly to the server, before downloading to my MP3 player for the same music on the go reasons.

Then there is the story of the South Korean music market where, unlike the rest of the world music sales were on the increase until last year with the fall in sales attributed to a decline in digital sales and not CD sales. South Korea has seen the mirror opposite of the global market with physical format sales actually increasing and digital sales decreasing enough to drag the overall market down.

There are many different reasons why the South Korean market has been different from global markets for a few years now and reading through them just reminds me how complex the global market can be and the number of stakeholders that need to be considered when trying to get the balance right.

So where am I? Well from what I can see the vinyl market might be seen as small and growing, however, it is significant, alive, well and getting better. It will not match downloads but could continue to take a larger slice of the market as CD sales continue to decline. Digital sales and streaming will continue to grow provided they get their pricing structure right and pay artist a fair rate. If not then we could see a sudden decline in streaming subscriptions and an increase in CD sale!? South Korea’s market will all of a sudden look no different to the global one. Or should I say the global market will look more like South Korea’s?

From: A little bit of Basil by Basil Bahrani. The Sonneteer Sound Magazine.