Rehashed hash

by on September 27, 2007 at 10:14 pm in Music | Permalink

When blogging I try to keep book rehash to a minimum.  But tonight I cannot resist making a point from Good and Plenty:

In the past most people didn’t much like or listen to most of the music they bought, or in any case most of the value came from their very favorites.  A relatively small percentage of our music purchases accounted for most of our listening pleasure.  So if people can sample music in advance, and know in advance what they will like, music sales will plummet.  This will be a sign of market efficiency, not market failure.

Admittedly copyright issues are being superimposed on this scenario at the same time, so the net assessment of current music trends is complex.  But when there is uncertainty about consumer tastes, falling output can be a strong Pareto improvement.  (It’s just like how having lots of dates is not necessarily the sign of a happy love life.)  Less music is being produced, but we’re getting more of the stuff we want.

1 billb September 27, 2007 at 10:22 pm

Since I don’t have your book, can (or did) you justify the premise that people in the past behaved as you describe?

2 Anonymous September 27, 2007 at 11:09 pm

What about the information signals generated by the market for CD sales? Don’t we lose something when everyone downloads everything, but what they play and like is known only to them (and perhaps their iTunes software which tracks plays)? Hasn’t our signal-to-noise ratio plummeted in the download world?

3 Eric Crampton September 28, 2007 at 1:05 am

People don’t listen to all the music they purchase? Am I the only person who listens to his 19 GB of CDs in alphabetical order by song title? Sure, it takes about three months or so to go through them all, but I listen to each of my tunes just as much as the other tunes that way. Switched on the last rotation to alphabetical by album title. Rather wish that Windows Media Player could handle random play by album draw without replacement….

As for buying tracks vs full albums, I still pick full albums from Audio Lunchbox. Buying individual tracks is irritating. Would much rather buy full albums, then delete unwanted songs if they prove irritating after a couple of listens.

4 Steve Sailer September 28, 2007 at 5:03 am

Do you really think people are more satisfied with music today than in, say, 1967 or 1979?

5 sa September 28, 2007 at 7:53 am

Doesn’t your point confirm Tyler’s point? Tyler said that legal record sales are falling.

You say people’s music collection(legal+illegal) has exploded. Both of these facts can go hand in hand and support each other assuming that downloading illegal songs is cheaper comapred to buying it legally for a certain demographic(young college students) and your sample is predominantly comprised of this demographic.

I think favourite songs are way overrated since music is primarily a singaling device within peer groups. I think the falling record sales are driven primarily by a) to some extent by illegal file sharing b) to a greater extent by the supply of a much greater number of peer signalling devices like shoes, clothes, online memberships, etc which to a great extent is the triumph of marketing in the American society.

6 jult52 September 28, 2007 at 11:28 am

“So if people can sample music in advance, and know in advance what they will like, music sales will plummet. ”

Except that developing a liking for a piece of music usually takes time and a few listenings. It only sometimes happens instantaneously.

You’re describing one aspect of the dumbing-down of musical culture, not some “efficiency” gain.

7 Bob Montgomery September 28, 2007 at 3:20 pm

You’ve been able to “sample” CDs in record/department stores for a good while now, I’d say since at least a couple years before widespread music downloading.

I remember sampling cassette tapes (!) in the late 80s in a music store.

8 juancarlos September 28, 2007 at 6:41 pm

1957 Elvis,Louis Armstrong
1967 The Beatles, Nat king Cole
1977 Barbra Streisand. The Eagles
1979 disco trash
1987 Maddona. Cindy Lauper.Dire Strait.The Boss
1992 Guns and Roses.
1997 New kids on the block, backstreet boys ,
2007 Timberlake.jessica Simpson
The descending curve of music. Sailer is right

9 Slocum September 29, 2007 at 8:01 am

So if people can sample music in advance, and know in advance what they will like, music sales will plummet.

Really? But aren’t purchases of music a function of perceived value? In a condition where I consistently enjoy the music I purchase, won’t I tend to keep on buying more as compared to a situation where I often find that I regret my purchases and wonder why I wasted the money?

No, I think the obvious explanations are the right ones:

1. Music can be duplicated perfectly and distributed instantly by end users (and at zero cost).

2. Competition from other forms of home entertainment (in particular — the Internet, computer gaming, and video). Forgetting about the net, compared to, say, 1980, the cost of movies has declined dramatically, and video games have exploded).

Steve Sailer: Do you really think people are more satisfied with music today than in, say, 1967 or 1979?

Well, they certainly should be, since virtually everything available in 1967 or 1979 is available today (with higher quality, greater convenience, and at a lower price).

Which points to a serious problem for producers of new music — the long tail. To a far greater extent than in the past, new recorded music must compete with the whole body of old recorded music.

10 Sol October 2, 2007 at 7:09 am

jb, it’s hard for me to imagine Fairport 1967 –> Gaelic Storm 1997 as proof that music is not descending. Guess that’s a “to each his own” — my list in support of your point would skip GS, the Irish Descendants, and Brobdingnagian Bards (?) and add The Bothy Band, Old Blind Dogs, Lunasa, and a Crowd of Bold Sharemen…

I think I might buy an argument that popular music is fading in quality, but oh my, the “Celtic” traditional niche is alive and better than ever. Besides the great bands mentioned above, there has been a fantastic blossoming of solo and duo albums.

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