Declining sales are reducing the incentive to create music? A messy debate.

Are “declining sales and illegal downloading” diminishing or not the “incentive to create music”? Glenn Peoples mentions the debate between Professors Oberholzer-Gee and Strumpf and the RIAA. The professors affirm that no, music creation has not diminished, pointing to the increase in the number of albums released.

  • “In 2000, 35,516 albums were released. Seven years later, 79,695 albums (including 25,159 digital albums) were published”. (The number of new releases in 2009 dropped to 98,000 from 105,000 in 2008. )

RIAA and Peoples refute the conclusion, in their words:

The professors cited SoundScan data which shows an increase in the raw number of albums released during the past decade: “Since 2000, the annual release of new music albums has more than doubled” they write, suggesting that musical production, or the incentive to create music, has not diminished because of declining sales and illegal downloading.  But this data alone does not tell the whole story. For example, this figure includes re-releases, new compilations of existing songs, and new digital-only versions of catalog albums.  Further, SoundScan has also steadily increased the number of retailers (especially non-traditional retailers) in their sample over the years, better capturing the number of new releases brought to market.  What Oberholzer and Strumpf found was better ability to track new album releases, not greater incentive to create them.

RIAA then proceeds to another analysis, comparing the evolution of music sales and employment in the music field, concluding that “selling music is an important motivator to creating music, and that the decline in sales has correlated with fewer people making a living in music.”. The graph is very nice, but the conclusion is a bit precipitated, in my opinion. Just look how the scales of the two vertical axes are different.  Both trends decline dramatically, but Shipments fell over 50%, and employment fell only about 12%. And from there the discussion could go much further. Just to mention a few topics:

  • relation of music jobs and records sales before 1999
  • music jobs not related to music recording
  • evolution of home recording
  • why RIAA does not provide a better measure of how many ‘significant’ albums have been “created”/released per year?

Anyway, a nice chart:


In conclusion, it is sad that RIAA decided to counter misinformation with more misinformation. This is an important debate, and could be a very interesting one too, if all parties were really interested in finding the truth.

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