JEFF SHATTUCK MUSIC

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• Is music worth less today than it was before? Part I of IV.

(As I prepare to put my album up for sale, or at least make it available, I’m thinking a lot about the “market” I’m entering. Here are the posts I plan to write:

I - The worth of music
II - Copyright
III -  Filesharing and can anything be done about it?
IV - What’s next for music?


A lot of smart people are debating whether or not music is worth less today than it was a decade ago or longer. Some say yes, some say no, nearly all engage in tortured prose about price and value and economics and Christ it gives me a headache just thinking about all the drivel that’s been written.

So, to answer the question straight away, here’s what I would say: I don’t know.

I do know, however, that the only way to determine the worth of anything is a market. Here’s Wiki’s take:

Price: In ordinary usage, price is the quantity of payment or compensation given by one party to another in return for goods or services.

Economic value: is the worth of a good or service as determined by the market.

You see the problem, right? In the music business, worth is completely distorted by the fixed-price nature of the market. Every album sells for about the same price, same with every song. The movie business has the same problem. Books, too. Why should this be? Beats me, but I would imagine a guild or union bought off some politicians awhile back and we’ve been paying for it ever since. Anyway, without a competitive free market (like there is for beer) there can be no real way to determine worth and without worth how do you arrive at a price? Fact is, we’ve all been raised to believe that all albums should cost the same and this has completely messed up how we value music.

Setting all this aside, though, let’s look at total music sales (from CNN):

Total revenue from U.S. music sales and licensing plunged to $6.3 billion in 2009, according to Forrester Research. In 1999, that revenue figure topped $14.6 billion.

So that settles it, right? You can ramble on all you want about economic theory, but a 50% drop in total sales in pretty convincing that music is worth less now than it was in the past. Not so fast, bubba. The problem is not worth, in my opinion, it’s filesharing, which I will write about after I tackle copyright. Stay tuned.