Law in the Internet Society

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-- JianweiFang - 03 Feb 2009

A Long Tailed Music Industry

For quite a long time, I hate the fact that the music industry no longer produces million-sale hits that I am fond of. Rather, I find that the mainstream popular music really sucks and I gradually lost taste to it. Sometimes, I very much missed the old golden days when a singer or a band will sweep a whole generation with their music. I blame this to the industry’s focus on celebrity-making, rather than on music-producing.

While the shifting focus might explain some of the reasons, Chris Anderson gave a more convincing explanation of the fall of hits in his book named The Long Tail. According to his long tail theory, the technology, especially the Internet, has enabled unprecedented choice in terms of what the music fans could hear. Unlike the old generations who grew up with forced feeding of music that was broadcasted online or sold in cassette and discs, the younger generation is opting for exploration, which is made possible by new technology. It turns out that, when given more options, people tend to have different tastes of what music they would like. According to Chris Anderson, music fans today are trading more than 8 million unique tracks, almost all of them far outside the Billboard Hot 100. People are more and more satisfied with the music they explore to find interesting. The hits, on the other, fail to catch the attention from everyone, as it was able to do. Therefore, there are fewer hits and super-star musicians or bands.

I am certainly not sympathetic to modern musicians that their hits will hardly sell the same amount of music as previous blockbusters did. What I am concerned, as I indicated at the very beginning, is whether I can find the music that I am really fond of. Now I understand that the reason I liked a lot of million-sale hits may not be that I really liked the music, but rather I had no many choices to choose what I like. After all, with forced listening to blockbusters, whether from the radio or TV, whether in a shopping mall or a chain-restaurant, I had to listen to the same blockbusters over and over again. Eventually, I started to like what I hear, without realizing that I might just get used to that kind of music.

The beauty of a long-tailed music is the great diversity of music it could provide. The technology not only solves the problem of the limit of number of tracks a traditional music store or library can carry, it also enables every willing individuals to make music and share with fans with essentially no cost. The monopoly by the music company is taken away, and the musicians and fans are directly connected to each other.

Diversity is thought as the key solution for everyone to find something of his taste. With millions, or tens of millions of unique tracks becoming available, music fans will surely able to find something they like. And if there is no such kind of music available, someone will start to produce it, sooner or later. This experience applies to me very well as I can now easily chase down what I like, based on the music comments and reviews by the other fans on the internet.

In terms of the music industry, the music companies will inevitable suffer because they are taken away their monopoly in music producing and selling. They will also make less money because the blockbuster will sell less. On the other hand, the musicians signed with music companies will less likely to become household super-stars because fans are opting for exploring niche music. Nevertheless, just as I concluded in Is the Internet killing or (re-)making our musicians?, the music industry as a whole would probably prosper, with many more musicians producing more music for a much broader diversity of music to satisfy different taste of fans.

At last, I would like to end the essay with an interesting figure to illustrate a long-tailed music industry. There are some observations of my own from Figure I (surely people can make more observations): 1. The sales for the best-seller hit in the Internet era will likely to be smaller than old days. We will see fewer million volume sale of music. Another implication is that we will probably not see a super-star as the Beastles or Elvis Presley. 2. On the other hand, we will likely to see more musicians or singers emerging out of the industry, with some affiliate to the music company, and many more independent. 3. The diversity of music will be greated enhanced by the Internet, as a result many people will hopefully find the music to their taste. (I have complained the low quality of music being produced by the label company, and now I should be able to find music that is to my taste.) 4. The total value of music to be sold/shared in the Internet era will likely to be higher than the old model, which will defy the notion that Internet will kill the music industry.

Figure I: Richard Web depicts in Online shopping and the Harry Potter effect in Christmas ,Scientific on December 22, 2008


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