A good decade for music, not for labels

MP3 player headphones on a keyboard. The changes in the music industry precipitated by the MP3 have only continued with the rise of online streaming.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Stacey Vanek-Smith: The last decade has seen enormous changes in all kinds of businesses. Take music. Ten years ago, Napster was the most popular source of downloads until all of those legal issues. iTunes launched in 2003; it's now the biggest music retailer in the world. And through it all, record labels have been scrambling to find a workable business model. Bill Werde is the editorial director for Billboard. Thought we'd get his take on all this. Bill, thanks for joining us.

Bill Werde: Always a pleasure to be here.

Vanek-Smith: The last ten years in music we've seen quite a revolution in the business. Sum that up for us if you can.

Werde: A decade in the music business. Wow. You know Billboard just put out our decade-end issue, and we really kinda struggled with this. Because, you know on one hand, over the course of the decade, music was really strong and there's more music in more places than certainly there's ever been. But if you look at the core business -- if you look at music labels, if you look at publishers -- it's been a tough, tough decade.

Vanek-Smith: It does seem like there's been a little bit of a comeback. I mean, I remember when services like Napster and things, it was like nobody paid for music. Now it's actually pretty, I mean maybe I'm in the minority here, but I pay $1.23 for iTunes songs all the time. Is that turning around right now?

Werde: I think it's slowly turning around. I mean, the more the music business makes it really simple to have the experience you want as a music fan, the more likely it is that music fans are going to be willing to pay for that experience. For a long time, Apple was the only game in town, and you know the iTunes store, and that didn't really give you the full experience you could get elsewhere online if you were willing to break the law. So if you went onto Napster in the early days or any of the file-trading services that followed, you know, you had this whole amazing universe of music that included, you know, live tracks and bootlegs and things that had never been released, and you know entire concerts. And I think there's been a great effort to expand the catalog that you can buy in an upstanding environment.

Vanek-Smith: Ten years from now, what do you think the industry will look like?

Werde: Well there's certain parts of the business that have held their strength, for example music in film and TV. You know, there's more music I think in television commercials and TV shows than has ever been. And a lot of people would say that shows like Grey's Anatomy or the OC from a few years ago have sort of become the new radio. As for the sale of recorded music, it's really impossible to say at this point -- I mean, I think it's difficult enough to predict where we'll be at the end of 2010. People talk about the publishing business as a penny's business, right -- every time you play that song, you know, some publisher somewhere makes a penny or two. And I think to some extent, that may be the future of the recorded music business as well. You'll see fewer and fewer albums sold, most likely, and you'll see more and more songs being streamed, being licensed, finding other ways to make money for the rights holders than by selling albums.

Vanek-Smith: Bill Werde is the editorial director for Billboard. Bill, thanks for joining us.

Werde: Always a pleasure to be here, thanks so much.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...