2019/02/15

Decline and Fall of an Industry

Evidence for my theory that American pop culture exhausted its creative capital in the late 90s continues to mount.

recorded music revenue per capita, feb 2011

This graph tracks the US record industry's per capita revenues by year. Note the dramatic decline beginning in 1994 that hit a low point in 1997. We now have a visual representation of American pop culture's implosion. Yes, there was a brief uptick that culminated around the year 2000, but the almost immediate drop off that followed shows no signs of abating.

Also noteworthy: Whereas the introduction of CDs temporarily saved the industry from the late 70s crash, the so-called digital revolution hardly slowed down the 2000s descent.

The graph above put me in mind of another chart I came across not too long ago. Legacy science fiction publishing follows a similar pattern to the record industry, with introductions of new media cutting into old media market share while bumping up overall sales. The difference is that sci-fi has avoided the record labels' wild fluctuations and is charting an overall upward trend. And these are oldpub numbers. Indie is doing even better.

SFF trad ebook & audio sales

It's important to keep in mind that oldpub sci-fi's continued growth is reliant upon reselling backlisted books by long-established authors, much as the record industry was bailed out in the 80s by forcing everyone to re-buy their favorite 60s and 70s music on CD. The exact opposite is happening in newpub, where new authors' new books are eclipsing the sales of oldpub's back catalog.

What this tells us is that there's still a spark of life and creativity in newpub science fiction. Perhaps those of us who are engaged in creating stories to entertain audiences with no regard for New York publishers' arbitrary strictures may keep the flame burning through the encroaching Dark Age.

We'll see. In any event, help independent science fiction authors like me continue to bring you the fun, exciting stories you love. Combat Frame XSeed, my first foray into military science fiction, helped breathe new life into the genre. You can help keep the momentum going by backing the sequel today!

23 comments:

  1. The reason for no uptick with "Digital" music was that the revolution with the "CD" *was* the Digital Revolution. CD owners quickly discovered how to cut and burn music to and from CDs, as well as rip the CDs to digital format to put onto stand-alone MP3 players and computers.

    The 2003 "advent" of digital music just removed the CD ripping as a process step.

    “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”

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  2. In fact, I'm betting the shoulder at 2001/2002 was due to the fact that it was neigh-on impossible to get the MP3s you owned onto that new-fangled "iPod" thingie, so you re-bought some of your music from Apple, for convenience sake.

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  3. I'll have to disagree on the nigh-on impossible. People were ripping stuff for years - I had a copy of Soundjam long before it was bought and converted to iTunes - and the whole tagline for the first was "rip/mix/burn" - plug it in and use itunes to move your music over. The delay was in getting Windows compatibility. Also, the nomads/etc. already had ways to load music, through soundjam/etc., or by treating them as a removable drive.

    Other than that. agree with you that CD's WERE the digital revolution. in a way, since it didn't take long for CD-ROM drives to be able to rip them. Storage space was actually more of a limiting factor.

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    1. Sounds logical. I defer to Last Redoubt's analysis.

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    2. This reminds me of when they made a big push on iTunes for convenient compatibility with the iPod. One of their early solutions was 'convert standard mp3 to our proprietary mp3 format' in iTunes then load to the device. If memory serves, it was just standard mp3 encoding with a different file header that'd bork playing in other players. They bundled iTunes into QuickTime,which was still the broadly used internet video player at the time but was on the decline. There was check to install/not install iTunes.

      I told it not to install. It installed anyway, but in the background. When people started asking why, this was initially touted as a 'helpful feature', then said it was a bug when that blew up in their faces.

      iTunes ran in the background and another 'helpful new feature' ran, automatically converting my entire music library to the iTunes proprietary mp3 format, while downsampling everything to 96 kbit/s and erasing the original files. I found out when I went to go listen to some music while it was in the process of converting. It even found my external backup drive that was plugged in and got through half of that archive before I pulled the plug (literally). This feature-turned 'bug'- lasted all of 2 days before they put out another update.

      There's still stuff I haven't recovered because it was indy and just doesn't exist in any form I can find anymore.

      Immediately went from just not preferring Apple products to total Apple household ban. I won't even let visitors connect their iPhones or iPods to my network.

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    3. Yeah, I was ripping stuff and loading it to my mini disc player. Those things were cool.

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    4. Mini Disc could have been one of the replacements for the floppy drive. That made me very frustrated with Sony.

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  4. Keep in mind 1997 was the year they went all in with their manufactured pop acts which is what gave them the slight boost until 1999 when the audience tired of it.It's been downhill ever since, even though they blamed Napster/piracy for it. No, the truth was that they stopped giving the customers what they wanted.

    Of course it started in the 90s. 1995 was the year of the Interscope Geffen merger, pursued aggressively by MCA Records. This went through in 1996. You probably know MCA as the Universal Music Group these days as they renamed themselves to that in 1996. In 1999 they acquired Polygram Records and called themselves Interscope Geffen A&M Records. All this was pursued by Seagram who ended up owning a quarter of the music market themselves. Now it's all under the Universal Music Group label.

    This momentum carried over into the 2000s when they bought Dreamworks Records, and also established a bunch of small labels to push out the competition in the indie world. Wanna know why no up and comer bands get discovered anymore? This is why.

    Those series of mergers led to the ejection of many bands and artists back into the minor leagues and was the first in a stream of big labels scooping each other up and eventually destroying the mid-tier labels in the process. Today the only record labels left are under the big three of Sony Music, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group who own the radio stations and MTV. There are also indie labels but they are locked out of the mainstream by said practices of the majors. The divide is clear, but the audience is abandoning them in droves.

    Doesn't that mess sound familiar?

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    1. Well, that explains a lot!!

      Between 2005-2011 I followed local bands and the amount of good music I heard amazed me. So much better than what was on the radio; so much more accessible and memorable. But when the acts got signed, they'd promptly disappear. You'd never see them playing live again, and they never popped up on the radio. "Success" was a one-way ticket to limbo. All makes sense now.

      Why would the Monolabel waste money on talent scouting, A&R etc, when it already owned properties grown from agar in petri dishes, and it could exploit them for nothing on the house-owned radio and television?

      Crocodile tears for this wicked, dying medium.

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    2. Even bands that had some success like The Hives were eventually forced to flee:

      https://wastelandandsky.blogspot.com/2018/12/curtain-call.html

      “It took a lot of doing to get this done and that’s partly because we were in charge of it ourselves. It made things slower not having anyone on our backs, but the plug was out of the tub for the record industry so they had a lot less money, and we always licence our record to record companies but the economy wasn’t really there any more."

      There's nothing left on the majors. They screwed themselves by ignoring the customers and pursuing whatever could get them short-term monetary gain. Now it's biting them big time.

      The comic and book publishing industry are currently facing those same issues.

      Screw the audience, get screwed yourself.

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  5. One thing exacerbating the issue is the (perfectly legal) availability of free music via internet radio. You can listen to pretty much any radio station on Earth from anywhere on Earth. That makes getting your music fix pretty damn easy.

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    1. If I read the chart correctly, internet radio is lumped into the red "digital category", which certainly didn't help the record labels.

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    2. Chris and Brian

      Spotify is the latest trend. Sure it's ultimately a subscription service but one of the most invaluable services it has is discoverability: either through the radios or people sharing via Napster like fashion of their hard drives

      The music industry was corrupt ab initio and showed the movie studios how to behave. And both face the long delayed reckoning

      xavier

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  6. Slightly off-topic, and you might not remember, but I tried starting off reading your Souldancer and had problems following along. I'm giving Nethereal a try and finding it much easier to get into, so maybe it's a question of starting at the right place and having sufficient grounding.

    On a side-note, what's your view about spoilers? I find an interesting concept can often intrigue me into trying a new book or author. An interesting concept well-executed is always welcome. But sometimes trying to share the concept spoils the big reveal.

    In your case, I've interested one person into giving Nethereal a try by telling him the central conceit, but not giving away any specific plot point.

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    1. You may not know this,but I actually wrote Souldancer first. Nethereal came about when I realized I needed more background material to give the story context. Those background notes grew into the book you hold in your hands. Good to know that readers are benefiting from that decision.

      Re: spoilers - you've illustrated the fine line authors have to walk in terms of marketing. A good promotion is like a bikini. What it reveals is enticing; what it conceals is vital.

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  7. And at any rate, I'll be giving Xseed a try soon. Certainly no worries about giving away the concept in that one!

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    1. Thank you. Please consider joining us in crowdfunding the sequel at the link above. Claiming the second perk level and above gets you the original Combat Frame XSeed eBook now and the sequel when it's finished.

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  8. Eh, I just listen to sacred music now. Pretty much everything is garbage or close to it if you decide to listen to the lyrics. Still have a soft spot for 30's-50's though, and my alternative rock from the 90's.

    Btw, just dropping by on my free day while doing Exodus 90 with some of the guys. Hope all the regulars here are well. You are in my prayers.

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    1. Always a pleasure to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by. Praying for your intentions.

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