Thursday, December 25, 2008


Patrick Foster, Times, UK - The internet was supposed to bring vast choice for customers, access to obscure and forgotten products - and a fortune for sellers who focused on niche markets.

But a study of digital music sales has posed the first big challenge to this “long tail” theory: more than 10 million of the 13 million tracks available on the internet failed to find a single buyer last year.

The idea that niche markets were the key to the future for internet sellers was described as one of the most important economic models of the 21st century when it was spelt out by Chris Anderson in his book The Long Tail in 2006. He used data from an American online music retailer to predict that the internet economy would shift from a relatively small number of “hits” - mainstream products - at the head of the demand curve toward a “huge number of niches in the tail”.

However, a new study by Will Page, chief economist of the MCPS-PRS Alliance, the not-for-profit royalty collection society, suggests that the niche market is not an untapped goldmine and that online sales success still relies on big hits. They found that, for the online singles market, 80 per cent of all revenue came from around 52,000 tracks. For albums, the figures were even more stark. Of the 1.23 million available, only 173,000 were ever bought, meaning 85 per cent did not sell a single copy all year.


At December 26, 2008 8:23 AM, Blogger Jen said...

I find it hard to believe that only 173,000 different albums were bought in a year. This doesn't tell me what online retailer was used. Was it one, or all of them? Where does the 1.85 million album total come from? Does this include only new works, or works that have been out for years and decades as well? Without more information it seems very anecdotal.

At December 26, 2008 10:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lots of things wrong with this post (or with the music biz in general). First, it seems to focus on paid-for online downloads; it seems to me that many or even most "niche" markets are more physical-object specific... that is, fans of, say, "jazz" like to have product they can hold in their hands.

Even if that idea is wrong, there is a second problem here: lack of viable outlets to hear new music within niches. It's not that the outlets aren't there (umpteen zillion web radio/podcasts)it's that these aren't viable methods of disseminating new music... that is, they only get a very small number of listeners, even fewer of which are motivated to seek new music. New music should be a regular feature of niche-focused "recreational-listening" outlets if there is any expectation of new artists being discovered. By which I mean, Classic Rock Radio should play new bands that play in a classic rock style, etc. It's telling that most general music listeners discover new acts through commercials(!)

Third, frankly, new music sucks. Really. I'm a niche fan, psychedelic rock specifically, and while there are talented groups playing in the genre, the art of songwriting seems to have atrophied... a problem that spreads across all genres. People want great songs, they're not getting them.


At December 26, 2008 2:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one buys music they haven't heard. The options for hearing new music and older non-mainstream music are fragmented and hard to find. This is a marketing failure only made worse by the business practices of both record companies and radio and TV companies.


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