Sunday, 15 November 2009

Musicians and the Mona Lisa effect

The availability of music as digital files has made recorded songs a commodity.  Reproduction costs are low and there is a huge and ever expanding choice of artists and titles to choose from.  Market economics say that prices should fall - and consumers clearly expect that to be the case.  It's not unsurprising then to hear that revenues from selling music are falling...

As a consumer I see it as what I call the Mona Lisa effect.  Leonardo's masterpiece has world renown - everyone knows what it looks like.  The original is worth a fortune - (more probably several fortunes) - but a printed copy in a newspaper, or a jpeg image on the web, is practically worthless.  Seeing the copy in the consumer's mind is not the same as seeing the original. 

And that's the way it's going in the music industry.  Listening to the record is not the same as seeing the original.  Musicians are artists - performance artists - and it is in performance that the public value what the artist does.  With that in mind it is interesting to read the figures on the Times Labs Blog showing that artists revenues are increasing thanks to live performances - while record label incomes are falling.  They have a telling graph that highlights this well - also copied and with comment on Boing Boing, and Christian Engström's blog.  The raw data is available here.

Artists income from recordings has fallen 27% over four years - but during the same period artist's income from live performance has gone up 70%, giving artists a net gain of 45% over four years.  Not many industries can point to the same good news in the midst of a recession.......

As the Mona Lisa shows - the value lies in the original...   remember that next time you see that enigmatic smile  ;-)

Piratpartiet and The Pirate Party -  Working for copyright reform.


Crosbie Fitch said...

The market for copies has ended. The market for art continues.

That applies to studio recordings just as much as live performances.

You can sell tickets to a studio recording just as you can sell tickets to a concert. The only difference is that you attend a concert in person, whereas you receive a recording via BitTorrent.

You can still sell recordings to your audience, but you can't sell them copies.

See for an example of the revenue mechanism that enables musicians to sell recordings.

Edward E said...

@crosbie: I saw your comments on as well. Today there remains a market in recorded music - but artists and labels need to realise that the value to the end customer is likely to decline -not go up - and artists need to realise that with new releases fighting for market share against back catalog hits their prospects of cutting a big slice from the cake are decreasing. Meanwhile falling recorded music sales revenue means that labels aren't investing in new talent...
I can see I need to respond to Billy's comment on increased single sales as well.
Live performance turns bands back into a scarce commodity which is why performance is increasingly important part of the industry.