Monday, March 26, 2007

Jumping the S Curves in Music

I'm old enough to remember the 45 rpm vinyl record as the dominant "package paradigm" for the popular music industry [I actually remember 78 rpms, as well]. That was a long time ago. Since then, we've been through 33 rpm "albums," 8-track tape, tape cartridges, CDs, minidiscs, and now, apparently, downloadable single tracks, courtesy of mp3; all in about 45 years! Entertainment, after all, is a "fast clockspeed" industry. Tastes change, popular acts come and go [except for the Rolling Stones, who seem to go on forever]. The technology, as evidenced by these package changes, is also in flux. So, too, is the rest of the value-chain: the people who produce the physical, plastic package; the ultimate distributers of the product; and the equipment producers on whose products the package is played.
All of this was brought to mind by an article in today's New York Times, which reports that buyers of digital downloaded music selected single tracks over albums, 19 to 1. If this continues, it will represent a significant S-curve dislocation for many parts of the popular music value-chain. This will not only affect "products" but also business models and artistic statements, as well. Already, some record labels are beginning to view themselves as "fan clubs," selling access to artists' works by subscriptions, rather than by product. One wonders, as well, if anything like the message contained by the entirety of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, can ever be achieved through the distribution of downloadable singles?
In most discussions of the S-curve phenomenon, we tend to concentrate almost entirely upon the industry at risk. What a bit of reflection reveals, however, is that you can't change any one part of an industry's value-chain without affecting the rest.

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