I really hesitate to write about anything's permanent demise. It's a tricky and iffy proposition.
On one hand if I had written about the death of 8-track tape in the 70's, I might have been deemed a prophet, or at least a good analyst of trends. On the other hand, if I had been one to declare print media to be dead in the 80's, I would still be wiping off the proverbial egg from my face.
In the early 90's, anyone who saw the death of democratic congressional dominance would have had a feather in their cap by 1994. In contrast, those who declared the Democratic party dead in 2000 and again in 2002, only to be reinforced in 2004, never saw 2006 coming. And I suspect the liberal pundits who are saying R.I.P. to the G.O.P. these days will be just as innaccurate.
Recently, there has been a lot of press in the entertainment industry about artists shedding their record companies. Most recently, Canada's best selling export, Barenaked Ladies have gotten some press mileage out of the fact that they dropped thier label and went on alone, selling CD's and downloads themselves instead of relying on the archaic distribution of the major and indie labels.
The Canadian quintet is hardly the 1st big act to go this route however. Public Enemy's Chuck D has been doing exactly that for years now. Amy Mann went "all internet" years back with mixed results. Bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish & other jambands have found cash cows in the selling of their concerts, which tend to be unique from one another, to their fans directly via the internet. Neither band has now toured in years and continue to generate revenue without the help or hinderence of any label.
And many artists and bands are following suit. The artist who is once again known as Prince even gave away his latest release to fans via his website.
To further evidence the respitorial failure of the recording industry is the closing of one of the largest retailers, Tower Records, who closed all of their stores due to sharply declining sales. Other stores are reporting massive drops in sales and music sections in major retailers shrink as they only try to stock profitable titles. Rolling Stone and industry publications report and illustrate steep declines in sales as time goes on. And no one is showing any signs of any glory days returning. Even record companies that aren't losing their shirt aren't doing all that great.
For a few years now, the answer seems to have been in downloads. But downloads have hardly been the panacea that the industry was looking for. Surveys show that upwards of 1/2 of all downloaded music is gotten free, and by the industry's standard, illegally. Perhaps that is due to the industry being late to embrace the downloaded format and their attempts to squash it before it grew.
That industry resistance basically lead to a generation of young people who simply don't believe in paying for music. They believe in supporting their favorites, but in other ways like concerts and merchandise patronage.
That leaves the record compnies in a lurch. despite their attempts, they have shown that all they can do to intimidate the youth of this nation to not clandestinely download and share their intellectual property, and not much beyond that. So much like some adults have little fear of an IRS audit, these kids hardly fear the big bad record company and their henchmen.
So the trend of free downloading doesn't appear to be slowing or losing momentum in any way. So, what's a label to do?
Well, for one, either someone is just trying to make up for lost revenue by overcharging the consumer or too many people have their hand in the proverbial cookie jar, because download prices are just too high. Not that the companies don't have a right to charge what they feel the market will bear, but by judging the numbers...the market isn't bearing it whatsoever.
Right now, most downloads are 99 cents. There are some less expensive alternatives, down to 49 cents (and we're talking ones with songs that people actually want) but that is probably still too high. The record industry should not miss this boat like they did downloading in gerneral. The price war should start at around 25 cents a song, or a couple bucks for an album.
That might not permanently save the industry, but it will extend it's life as it searches for a new home. The 99 cent download ship is sinking fast and without any life-rafts.
But the industry won't die, necessarily. What it will do, as it will need to, is metamorphosize into a new industry. What that maight look like is still anyone's guess. Some more forward thinking companies are beginning to change as we speak. Make no mistake however, the recording industry is huge and their pockets run deep. Even though some of their business models may be rendered obsolete in the digital age, I suspect they won't be folding up their tents anytime soon.
But they will need to adapt to a changing marketplace better than they have over teh past decade. That is for certain.