Monday, January 22, 2007

the time has come / the time has come

And so it begins. Bob Lefstez, who, may be rather over opinionated at times (but that is exactly why I enjoy him) predicted last year that 2007 is to be the year of the CD meltdown; that we have seen nothing yet in terms of the collapse of CD sales.

I like Bob’s emails, and look forward to them. He says things that no-one seems to be willing to say, the obvious things that are not necessarily politically correct in an industry based, as often as not, around yes-men, cronyism and hype.

And as often as not he’s right.

As I read Bob I find myself nodding my head. Not all the time mind….he was wrong to criticise Patti Smith’s inauguration into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. He rather misses the point, I think. Patti and Joni Mitchell were absolutely crucial in pushing open the door for intelligent female composers in popular music. Smith may have only have had one hit, but that is rather beside the point. The hall, if it is to have any value (which is utterly debateable anyway)has to be about more than hit records. And, Bob, Alice Cooper may’ve had a worthy hit or two, but he didn’t “invent” (if there is any such thing) glam rock….the credit for that has to go to a bunch of purveyors of sequins from across the other side of the Atlantic. It was their influence that rocketed around the world, not Vince’s. But I agree, a Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame that excludes The Stooges and The New York Dolls is essentially worthless.

I did get a smile though from the bunch of Americans rabbiting on about Rush. My lord, the nation that foisted REO Speedwagon and Asia on us still doesn’t get it, do they….then again, as Graham Reid muses, perhaps prog is back…god help us all. I feel a generation gap roaring down the track towards me. Some things are simply wrong and the passing of years does nothing to change that…

But back to CD sales… the first indications are that he, Bob, is right about the meltdown, and its coming at us faster than he, or anyone else, predicted. Its early days yet but the Christmas figures in the US were down some 6% over the year before, and the year itself down almost that figure in total. Digital sales, which are essentially track sales, have taken up some of the slack, and indeed, risen early this year. But the indicators for 2007 for traditional sales media or the recording industry as a whole, are already disastrous as digital is in no way taking up the slack indicated by the drop in CD sales.

The first two weeks of 2007 have seen a massive 14% drop over the same period. A third or fourth week pickup may slow this but if the 14% drop over the 6% drop is any rough indication of trends, then….well, when does the slowdown in sales start being referred to as a rout; as a disaster? The trend seen over the past half decade or so is accelerating faster than anyone could’ve predicted.

The number one single in the US sold 1700 physical copies last week, based on Soundscan figures. And the biggest single of 2006, from Taylor Hicks, sold only 450,000 all year, figure which could’ve been done in a week at the peak of single sales. If you think that’s bad, the number two sold 158,000 and, worse still, the tenth biggest selling single in the US last year sold only 32,000 and was, incredibly Heartbreak Hotel by the thirty year dead Elvis Presley.

The number one album in the US last week was the lowest selling number one, by quite a margin, since the current chart system was inaugurated, eclipsing the new low set the week before.

And it’s global, as anyone in either the Australian or New Zealand record labels will tell you. My information is that the current NZ number one, yet another hits collection by ABBA (ABBA again for god’s sake…how exciting…and they wonder why nothing’s selling…it must be time for another Police collection or a new Cats Stevens’ hits package…and then there is Marley) has, despite television advertising sold less than 2000 copies. That’s less than $40k in gross return, before the marketing cost, royalties and the like. Let alone the cost of the staff, warehousing and everything else involved in supporting a small multinational company. Yes, I know it’s not that simple, especially when a company has some 50,000 titles in its catalogue.

But its scarily indicative of the obvious trend and it doesn’t take long before steady declines of the sort we are seeing move beyond the simply dire into serious retrenchment beyond the sorts provided by continuous merging, not least of which must be a withdrawal from smaller markets.

Fascinating times….

On a plus…the new LCD Soundsystem album, due out in March I think…is an absolute killer….watch EMI do nothing with it….