Groundhog Decade

Hollywood is about to repeat the catastrophic mistakes of the music industry.
By Bill Wyman

What happened to the music industry over the last 10 years or so was a lot like the plot of The Hangover. Bad judgment and self-indulgence producing chaos, pain, blinding sun, dim but lacerating memories … and you wake up to find there’s a tiger in your hotel suite. It’s been more than 10 years since compression technologies and ever-faster online speeds started making it easy to move media around online. That’s the development that put the plot in motion. For music fans, what was first the slow agony—and then the thrill—of emailing a song to a friend evolved with ever-increasing speed into a world in which we can easily swap discographies of 10, 20, even 50 or 100 albums.

What that meant for the music industry was painful: Its sales are about 40 percent of what they were 12 years ago, and there are even worse metrics than that. (There’s a chart on this blog post, for example, which demonstrates that people are buying about one-fourth as many CDs as they were in the 1990s.)

Throughout, chaos reigned: The fall of the CD. The rise and fall of the DVD; the rise and fall of Napster. The rise and rise and rise of the file-sharing networks and cyberlocker sites. Thousands of legal attacks by the record industry on file-sharers; the coming of Netflix; the opaque future of streaming services and cloud storage. Indeed, Steve Jobs recently announced Apple’s foray into cloud storage. The idea is that we’ll be able to match our iTunes libraries—music for now, but eventually video as well—to online repositories, where they will be accessible to all of our computers, TVs, phones, and pads. (I’m not buying it, but that’s a subject for another time.)

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