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Missing RIAA figures shoot down “piracy” canard

This duck won't quack on Hilary's farm no more

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Research by George Zieman gives the true reason for falling CD sales: the major labels have slashed production by 25 per cent in the past two years, he argues.

After keeping the figure rather quiet for two years, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) says the industry released around 27,000 titles in 2001, down from a peak of 38,900 in 1999. Since year-on-year unit sales have dropped a mere 10.3 per cent, it's clear that demand has held up extremely well: despite higher prices, consumers retain the CD buying habit.

Increasingly hysterical comments from RIAA chairperson and chief random-number-generator Hilary Rosen suggest that many billions of potential sales have been lost.

In August analysts Forrester attributed the decline in sales to the economy, citing historical precedent, and argued that music downloads could revive the industry.

So why isn't the RIAA trumpeting this affirmation in music sales, and something of a renaissance in its business efficiency?

Perhaps because the RIAA's version of the truth doesn't fit with the facts. Zieman points out that only 3,000 sales of each of the missing 12,000 titles would have been enough to see overall growth continue to grow.

Heavens, you'd be forgiven for thinking the labels slashed investment with the intention of seeing overall demand decline. Perhaps there's a more benign explanation, however: A&R budgets are set well in advance, and with Napster causing a mighty panic amongst industry executives a couple years ago, they decided to cut the rosters, close their eyes and wait for a bomb that never went off. But far from being besieged by CD-burning vandals, the music industry is seeing astonishingly resilient demand.

For years the independent labels chaffed at the RIAA's sanctioned monopoly on representing recording artists, and dreamt that a mighty, populist wave of artists seeking more equitable treatment, and a public seeking more interesting music, would wash it away overnight.

That doesn't seem necessary. The RIAA appears to be imploding without any assistance at all, under the weight of its own logic. ®

Related Link

RIAA's Statistics Don't Add Up to Piracy - Ziemann [thanks to JP]

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