CD Industry [or] Bust?
There's a fun game that journalists play about the recording industry. Someone serves, launching the topic The Classical Recording Industry is Dead over the net. Then comes the return: a whole chorus of voices saying No! Not dead! Not even dying! Because just look at how many CDs are being made right now! More than ever!
The latest defense comes from the eminent (and wonderful) Henry Fogel, who writes in his latest blog post that the classical recording industry "most certainly is not dead. It is changed."
This comes from someone who once told me, on the record, that when he took over the Chicago Symphony in 1985, the average Solti recording "would sell between 60 and 100 thousand copies within three years after it was issued." If one only sold 25,000 copies, he said, "it was an absolute failure." Today, sales of a mere 10,000 copies represent a big success for a classical album.
Henry, of course, isn't denying this in his post. All he's saying is that we have today choices that we couldn't even begin to dream of in the 1980s, in terms of the wealth of music that's available to us. I can certainly attest to this, given the degree to which CDs have taken over my living space (to say nothing of my desk at the office). And this is a good thing. More musicians are getting more music out to more people.
(read more after the jump)
But I don't see that "more recordings" equals "revitalization of an industry." Because I always thought that an industry is a field that makes money. And very few of these recordings do. The companies that put them out are, increasingly, non-profit organizations. As Henry also notes, "The purpose of recording is no longer to make gobs of money, but to document their art. That strikes me as a very healthy development."
I'm all for documenting art; I believe in art for art's sake. And I have tremendous respect and admiration for Henry. But to say that this represents a new business model seems to me a little bit like saying the newspaper industry is not in trouble because, just look, more people are following the news, in print and online, than ever before.
And I find it noteworthy, and unfortunate, that observations about the difficulties facing various aspects of the classical music industry are so often taken as somehow representing an attack on classical music itself. The music is definitely going to prevail. The interesting question is how.
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