Happy Record Store Day!
In honor of this special day, I thought I would post in regard to a panel discussion I recently attended at the American Bar Association Section of Intellectual Property Law Annual Meeting. It was a great conference with sessions on current issues in copyright, patent, and trademark law, IP issues in social media and advertising, entertainment law and others. Full disclosure, I’m a Young Lawyer Fellow for the Section, but I cannot say enough about the Section and its wonderful group of professionals. I really enjoyed the conference, especially the entertainment law panels on intellectual property issues in entertainment transactions, as well as the future of the distribution of entertainment content. It was in the latter panel that I really got to thinking about the state of the industry in comparison to the past and where it might be going.
One recurring theme was that physical content for entertainment is dead. I found myself thinking of the recent buzz about the resurgence of vinyl, and recalled being at the Fest last fall seeing people carrying records to swap or sell. I have a small vinyl collection myself, and in thinking about the number of bands and labels that have been and continue to release music on vinyl, the idea of physical content for music being dead seemed odd. Certainly the industry has changed, sales are down and a lot of sales are from digital instead of physical format. But the response I get when I talk to some friends and colleagues about the buzz on vinyl, for which sales were up 33 percent in 2009 while total album sales were down 12.7 percent, the response I get is “oh the sales aren’t that big,” as if it doesn’t matter. Yes, vinyl accounts for only 1 percent of the overall market, but I think in this day and age if you can get people to buy physical content over digital, it’s kind of a big thing, especially if you consider that 2 out of 3 of those vinyl album sales were actually made in record stores. I think instead of brushing it aside, the industry could learn from it. Engaging your fans, putting out quality product and a great live show can go a long way in increasing sales, but I think labels and artists have to change your expectations as to what sales of recorded music will be.
Yes, the sales today pale in comparison to what they were at the peak of record sales (which interestingly I learned from the panel was from 1998-2000, the Napster years), but perhaps expecting those type of sales in the Internet age is unrealistic. The landscape has changed dramatically, instead of there being only a few outlets for exposure to music (mainstream radio, MTV, etc) and limited options for purchasing music, now there are tons of ways to do both. A big part of the future will be filtering services to help people sort out the crap out there, and there are going to be growing pains along the way. I think there will always be people who want to be huge rock stars and pop superstars, and if that’s the route you want to go, you can certainly shoot for it and make certain sacrifices in that effort. However, I know bands and artists that make a living from touring and making smart uses of their rights in publishing and other business efforts. It’s not an MTV Cribs living, but I don’t think that’s the goal of every band or artist out there. I’m not saying I have all the answers, and I’d like to hear what you think. Hope you have a great Record Store Day and find some great records!