A lot of buzz is circulating about the physical music market being dead. Such statements concern me. I am not concerned about the declining physical retail sale of music, but I do find concern with the praise shown, as if the death of the physical is some sort of goal or accomplishment. It is a well-known notion that the digital world is creating a new mass market for music, but what does that have to do with the presence or absence of the physical?
According to the RIAA 2008 Year-End Shipment Statistics, physical retail sales made up roughly 2/3 of all music sales, a 9% decrease from 2007. Digital music sales increased to 32% of total market value, bringing in $2.7 billion in total shipments. Likewise, and contrary to the “death of the physical” exclamations, vinyl sales increased to $57 million, more than doubling its 2007 figures.
Although the rise in vinyl sales throw a curve ball to “death of the physical” enthusiasts, the rising digital consumption statistics has become misrepresented. These enthusiast seem to profess how music companies should focus on the digital instead of wasting time, energy and money on physical music retail sales. Such notion raises much concern. It is discerning to me that anyone would propose to render such a major outlet obsolete while the music industry, as a whole, suffers from a decline in total music sales.
Digital music sales are increasing in its percentage of the whole music sales pie – a pie that is shrinking by the moment. The overall album sales pie, made up of both the physical and the digital, has decreased 14%, between 2007 and 2008. This trend will only continue as listeners find other, free sources to obtain music.
The physical market not only provides income, but the physical market provides a unique and personal connection between artists and avid music connoisseurs. Die-hard music fans collect vinyl and CDs, not to mention other music swag that record labels sell. Die-hard fans are the people who are willing to spend more in the long run on merchandise, new products and concert tickets, distinctly separating themselves from the great number of people looking to get free digital music without any intent to support artists.
The death of the physical mindset abuses avid, die-hard music fans, possibly making them disinterested in supporting the very artists they now cherish. This breaks the fan-artist bond, a bond needed in order for the music industry to profit. Not only will this mindset upset the functionality of the existing music business model, but this negative mindset strives towards a dysfunctional mass market strategy. The music industry is already facing challenges, why create a surefire method for failure?