Peter Kafka

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Music Sales Not Totally Terrible This Year

There’s no shortage of charts that plot the music industry’s decline. I published one myself last month.

So here’s one to counterbalance some of the relentless gloom. You can’t call this a turnaround, yet. But if you squint at this in the right light, click your heels three times and think positive thoughts, it’s possible to imagine that it shows you that we’re reaching the end of big music’s big slide.

Here’s what record music sales looked like in the U.S. for the first three months of this year, compared to the same period in 2010 (courtesy of the RIAA, using Nielsen SoundScan data):

You’ll note that overall sales are still down. But this is the music industry! So a decline of 1.3 percent almost seems like growth spurt. Last year, for instance, sales were down 6.1 percent during the same period.

Again, this is way too early to call the bottom on a decade-long decline. It’s entirely possible that the sales almost-non-decrease is just a temporary burp.

But if sales have stabilized, then things get very interesting. Assets like Warner Music Group, for instance, might actually be undervalued. And digital outlets like Apple’s iTunes and Spotify might finally deliver on the promise that they’ll deliver more money for the industry than its legacy CD business.

In related news, here’s one way to sell music, which seems likely to work for many people in my Twitter/Facebooksphere: Get Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride and all your other celebrity/comedy buddies to create a 30-minute video you’ll release in conjunction with your new album.

Which is what the Beastie Boys have done.

Here’s a two-minute teaser trailer, which involves some f and m-f bombs.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work