Burning The Album

Says Mr. Bon Jovi:
"I hate to sound like an old man now, but I am, and you mark my words, in a generation from now people are going to say: 'What happened?' Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business."
No sir, Mr. Jobs is not responsible for killing the music business.

The music business is responsible for killing the music business.

Buying music by-the-album was always an economic crutch. The music business thrives by having people hear, like, and want to buy, one song. This is "the single", in the classic model usually driving purchase desire through radio play. The problem is, the music business likes money and wanted a mechanism for parting people from more of it at one go.

The economics of producing a vinyl single are pretty close to the LP. The LP might cost a few cents more to make since it is bigger and requires more raw materials -- but the difference to the music producers is that "more music" equals "more money" -- and at a lower per-song marginal cost, this equals "more profit".

So music consumers see that they can buy one song for $3, or 10 songs for $10, and go "hey, more value to me," and the music producers go "ka-ching!" all the way to the bank.

There is one major problem with this model:

Most of the time, the additional album content sucked.

Albums were built around the idea of two or three radio-playable singles, and padded with... well lets be diplomatic and say "other stuff". Producers were blatant about this when one considered "the single", specifically "the B-side" of the single. The other song was deliberately picked so as to not be excessively desirable in its own right; if it was, it would have been a supplementary "the single" instead, increasing revenues from those who did buy by the single.

Albums which didn't suck always were rare, and in the modern iTunes world they are even rarer.

In the old days (which for me was the '80s), $10 was a lot of money to put down on a record. Having a deep record collection reflected the spending of a non-trivial amount of money, and most of us didn't have that kind of money to spread around. So our personal collections were, for the most part, thin.

And since they were thin, we listened to them over, and over, and over again, because there wasn't anything else in our collection to listen to.

So when we decided that the rest of the album was crap, it pretty much soured us on the idea of buying music by-the-album.

Fast forward to today.

Today I can buy the one track which I think is worth buying. And the cost of that track is an easy-to-swallow, impulse-buy-friendly amount.

And I no longer have to suffer through paying for or listening to crap just to pad someone else's bottom line.

The idea of the album was broken even before the CD became the dominant form of music purchase. It was broken by the music industry itself, who pumped out piles and piles of substandard music to pad their own bottom lines. And it was broken by the one-hit-wonder artists, who were incapable of consistently writing and performing to a high standard.

If the industry can't consistently produce a quality product, is it any wonder your market won't buy it given half a chance to cherry-pick?