Vinyl & Women Increase Sales, Solve What SOPA Can’t
SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, has many proponents across the traditional media world, from Time Warner to the Motion Picture Association. In the music world, it is supported by most major labels and their parent companies, who have been complaining for years that online piracy is the major reason music sales have been declining by double digits for the last decade. At this time last year, it looked like the music industry’s decline had no floor, and we were mere months from massive consolidation, reorganization, and downsizing of the traditional music industry infrastructure.
And then something remarkable happened in music in 2011: sales stabilized, and then slightly ticked up, to the surprise of many who’ve been waiting on the edge of their seats to sound the death knell on corporate music for years. Music sales were up 1.3% in 2011, which may seem miniscule, but when considering their dramatic slide since 1999 and the weak economy on a whole, the slight uptick is nothing less than remarkable.
The music industry deserves credit. It has been my opinion that record declines in music sales have been the fault of the music industry being unable to find and develop real music talent and produce music that engages people, instead of the industry’s scapegoat of music piracy. Though studies have shown that those who pirate music are also some of this biggest buyers of music, the music industry has insisted we need SOPA to protect their copyrighted material and stabilize their business model.
But what the music industry is ignoring, as well as virtually everyone else in the SOPA argument, is this dramatic and unexpected stabilization of music sales. Where did it come from and why? When you dig deep into the numbers there are two answers: women and vinyl.
2011 was the first year ever that digital sales outpaced physical sales, with digital sales hitting 1.27 billion units according to Billboard. Digital sales made up 50.3% of all music sales, while physical sales declined 5% in 2011, but that was in lieu of vinyl having a record year (no pun intended). 3.9 million vinyl albums were sold in 2011, up 1.1 million units from 2010.
Also when scanning through the sales numbers, we see many women at the top of the lists. Adele’s album 21 was the overwhelming frontrunner with 4 million physical copies and 1.8 million digital copies sold in 2011. Lady Gaga had the most digital song streams with 135 million, while Nicki Minaj’s song “Super Bass” was the most streamed song with 85 million. In country, Taylor Swift was right at the top, and in a very unusual move for country, released her Speak Now album on vinyl. And even performers who are not women, like Jason Aldean, whose My Kinda Party was the best-selling country album of 2011, score very high with the female demographic.
One of the reasons that women, and acts that appeal to women and girls are so high on the sales charts is because women are just significantly less likely to steal music as a practice, and they buy more music than men. As I alluded to in my Six Pop Country Archetypes article, whether it is technological ignorance, convenience, or some more fundamental natural propensity of females to support artists and the industry by buying instead of stealing, women and girls are the demographic propping up the music industry right now.
With SOPA suffering serious public relations damage at the hands of a historic partnership of America’s largest internet companies banding together to defeat it, there is a good likelihood the legislation will either not pass, or if it does, will have been so diluted it will have no real teeth. Instead of the music industry treating this as a setback, they should take a step back and see what worked for them in 2011. For every problem the capitalist marketplace makes for itself, there can be an equally-promising solution that does not have to involve government intervention.
Saving Country Music’s Official Stance on SOPA (A rant)
Like the “slow food” movement sweeping America right now, the old model assuming that Americans only want things that are cheap and fast may be eroding. Cloud-based networks and digital albums have made music more convenient, but as this article pointed out more eloquently than I could, people still want to own something physical, and vinyl fulfills that even better than the CD.
And though the Frau has always played second fiddle to the Herr in music, it might be time for a role reversal, as women are proving to be the biggest demographic still willing to pay for music.
Another reason I think sales increased in 2011 is because the industry made an effort to discover what price points the public was willing to pay for music. By reducing the price of digital music, they entice people to pay for it instead of steal it, based on the perception of value and convenience, and increase revenue by volume.
With SOPA crumbling before our very eyes, instead of the music industry looking at everyone else (i.e. consumers, the government) and pointing out what they are doing wrong, maybe they should look at themselves and ask what they are doing wrong. Or even more importantly, with a positive year in 2011 to reflect on, what they are doing right.
January 19, 2012 @ 1:00 pm
I’m not gonna lie. I’ve pirated some music in my day. But looking at the overall picture I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. About 10 years ago I pirated my first George Jones, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings songs from the suggestion of a coworker. At the time the radio was full of artists like Brian White, Ricochet, and Mindy McCready. Downloading those few songs for free opened my eyes to a world that I never experienced. I was mostly into the metal, alternative scene at the time and was just getting into country music. After downloading those few songs I went out and bought every Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Johnny Cash, David Allan Coe, Merle Haggard, etc. album I could get my hands on. So ultimately I think those few illegal downloads helped the industry more than it hurt.
Today, I’m older and wiser and still download the occasional album for “free.” But only albums from artists who’s samplings on Amazon haven’t completely sold me and I’m not ready to commit my wallet to them.
January 19, 2012 @ 1:09 pm
I recently read the book “Fight The Power: Rap, Race and, Reality” by rap pioneer Chuck D from the group Public Enemy. The book is from 1997 so things have changed a lot since then. However, he almost ENCOURAGED people to bootleg CDs. The record companies were routinely refusing to pay artists and blaming bootleggers for lost revenues. Of course the execs were still doing fine.
January 19, 2012 @ 1:01 pm
“3.9 million vinyl albums were sold in 2011, up 1.1 million units from 2010.”!!!!!!!
Triggerman, remember when I told you I was working on a business model for a new way of releasing music? This news is well recieved in our household this afternoon!
January 19, 2012 @ 1:34 pm
I think it will take time to discover if the vinyl resurgence is a deep rooted trend or a fad. I’m guessing there’s a little bit of both involved.
January 19, 2012 @ 2:02 pm
Absolutely. I wouldn’t make any life-altering bets on this today. Still, if vinyl is up, I’d bet turntable are in more households. That’s what I’m eyeballing.
January 20, 2012 @ 11:53 pm
i suspect its just an ironic fad to prefer vinyl in this digital age but some will stay with it which is cool
January 19, 2012 @ 1:06 pm
To me the option to buy a record with a digital download coupon is the best thing to happen in years! Not only do you get to play those awesome records at home(which also look fantastic as art), but I can add it to my ipod so I can have it with me as well. WIN WIN!
January 21, 2012 @ 9:13 am
i agree, and vinyl isn’t a fad. i owned a record store in tucson 10 or so years ago and have been buying records as my preferred format of music for even longer. they smell great, sound better and the art is something you can appreciate rather than squint at.
January 19, 2012 @ 1:21 pm
Very interesting article. It’s definitely no accident that today’s top artists are those that primarily appeal to women. Labels have a hard time putting out anything that’s not going to attract a female audience. I believe that vinyl is a product that will never lose its desirability to music fans. (Although it seems that more men generally buy vinyl than women?)
January 19, 2012 @ 1:32 pm
That’s a good point. I haven’t seen a demographic breakdown of vinyl buyers, but I would be very surprised if it wasn’t significantly stilted towards men, for the same reasons illegal downloads are. Not to stereotype, but generally, working for your music is not something women are not interested in, they want convenience, and it’s hard to find female audiophiles.
January 19, 2012 @ 1:51 pm
Another point too, Vinyl is geared toward collectors also. I think men tend to be collectors more than women. I may be wrong, but that is my experience.
January 19, 2012 @ 10:58 pm
Chuck Klosterman explains in one of his books (his opinion anyways) the difference between women and men in regards to being music fans. I’m with him.
January 20, 2012 @ 10:00 am
And are you going to fill us in on what he says mysterio? Or are you drunk commenting again? 🙂
January 19, 2012 @ 1:45 pm
im gonna go out a limb and say that the vinyl and hipster trends have a bit to do with each other as well. I think vinyl is cool but thats all you can do is listen at home. If i buy a CD i can listen in the car, put it on my ipod, and i get all the cool album art stuff so its CDs all the way with me
January 19, 2012 @ 1:57 pm
Without question hipster culture is feeding vinyl, and that is why I think it will take years to see if vinyl is truly meant to be a top-tier music medium again, or if it is a fad. I have always preferred vinyl even before skinny jeans and huge glasses were popular. I will sing it’s praises, but the experience is certainly not for everyone.
January 19, 2012 @ 6:00 pm
They make turntables and computer software that record vinyl to MP3. I have an American Audio turntable that records the MP3 right to a USB drive. I love it!
January 20, 2012 @ 3:32 pm
My setup is a bit different. I run my turntable to my stereo receiver. I also run my computer to the same receiver (so that I can hear sounds from computer on nice speakers), I then run a line out of receiver back to my computer for recording purposes. Its a bit more work to record a vinyl, but I can digitally record them in a high bit rate to any format I choose (usually FLAC 24/96).
Sound In The Signals Magazine
January 19, 2012 @ 3:39 pm
I really like vinyl. I think limited items are awesome. It definiley encourages me to buy something when it is in limited coloring, numbering, new artwork, etc… I will say though I enjoy buying underground re-pressed classics over new album on vinyl.
I think pricing would be a big deal to better get under control. With no phyiscal production cost a digital download shouldn’t cost more than 4 or 5 dollars. Some of the $9-15 prices are crazy. I think the pricing is better but still steep on most sites. I think Bandcamp and Amazon are the two doing it right at this moment as they seem to offer the best deals
Oh yeah we talked about SOPA and section 2 yesterday and I would like to point out megaupload was shut down today due to stuff hosted on it’s server by users. The owners are being prosecuted. Proving the government will in fact shutdown sites that are not monitored properly (I know this site is widely used for infringement but I think it is to set an example that even if SOPA doesn’t pass the government will find a way to shut down websites). To be fair to megaupload they did comply with DMCA takedown request (to my knowledge. I know they take stuff down all the time). The SOPA slippery slope and loopholes are real.
January 21, 2012 @ 9:11 am
i steal music to see what i want to spend my money on. gone are the days of shelling out near $18 for a cd that sucks, just cuz i read an article that “sold” it to me. now i can check out a new album, and if i like it i will buy it, usually on vinyl. i think artists would use free downloads as a tool to sell their stuff. but i realize there are people who just take and never give.
January 21, 2012 @ 10:46 am
Artists need to understand the difference between promoting music with freebies and dumping it on the curb. Just dropping an album for free is like promoting a restaurant by leaving a sandwich on a park bench. It quickly becomes trash.
I think fighting “piracy” on the federal level is a waste and certainly won’t help indies at all. Like the Wars on Terror and Drugs, the laws will be designed to make these criminal enterprises profitable for the elite. Indies will likely have to sign up for “protection” or truly stay underground.
It would take lots of government software to find “pirated” files. I know for years when I loaded my own recordings into iTunes or Windows Media I would find some automatically tagged with the wrong info by the programs. Think about the DMV or airport customs. Imagine having to prove that you didn’t steal that 3-chord country song.
If Americans do believe in liberty then we must take responsibility. Fight terrorism by not blowing shit up. Fight drug abuse by not smoking crack. Fight piracy by not stealing music/movies. Make something people WANT to buy or get out of the business.