Why do industry experts insist on coming off as crotchety old hillbillies, sitting on the porch, talking about how "in my day, we didn't have no dadgum eye pods. We had heavy laminate discs you had to spin around and poke with a big needle. You had to buy a new one every week 'cuz they wore out. And we LIKED it!"
When cassettes came out, back catalog sales drove the market.
When CDs came out, back catalog sales drove the market.
Now that iPods are here, the back catalog still drives the market.
Except, this time, folks are just ripping their CDs instead of buying digital downloads.
That causes a "wind chill effect," especially if you work at a major label. It's no colder in here than it was yesterday, but there's a bigger breeze blowing.
The vast majority of music listeners will use 80% of their personal collection for albums they grew up loving, rather than seeking out new music. The myelin layer in our brains erodes in our teens and twenties, which is why it's easier for us to love the songs we heard in high school. Radio hasn't helped much by emphasizing classic hits over the last few decades.
So if nobody needs to buy old stuff online, what happens to the market?
Apple's having a blast selling new songs to that part of the market that wants them. There's no compelling reason for them to open up a subscription service, and I'm sure they don't feel like competing with Sirius, Real, and Yahoo!
In the meantime, independent musicians are enjoying some of the strongest percentage growth rates in history, because when folks don't have to keep replacing their Van Morrison records, they can explore some new things.
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