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HMV sale on old CDs

Michael Geist on HMV’s decision to drop the price on back-catalog CDs:

This week, HMV announced that it was reducing the price on hundreds of back-catalog CDs generating a surprising amount of news coverage (Post, CBC). The move is good for everyone – the recording industry gets an important retail outlet to reduce prices on increasingly hard-to-find CDs (their largest retail outlets such as Wal-Mart do not carry many older titles), HMV gives a boost to music sales at a time when digital downloads, DVDs and video games command a growing share of the market, and consumers may find that the $20 sticker shock on some older CDs disappears. Yet leave it to CRIA to use the opportunity to spin this as a copyright reform story. HMV said absolutely nothing about the issue, because high-priced, older CDs have little to do with P2P file sharing or copyright law. CRIA’s Graham Henderson claims, however, that “it’s an effort to stem the tide of illegal downloading that threatens retailers and everyone else in the recording industry” and argues that other countries have reduced P2P through copyright reform while “a succession of Canadian governments have sat on their hands and done nothing.”


So from a Canadian perspective in all this music biz debate about P2P/copyright/downloading, the real question ought to be not: how much money are record companies making/losing? but rather: how many active “professional” music artists are there in Canada now? Is that number increasing or decreasing? If it’s increasing (which I think it must be) then we should ask why? As in: does rampant P2P have a positive or negative impact on the number of professional musicians in Canada? And if it’s positive, then you’d have to conclude that there is an overall benefit to P2P, regardless of what the CRIA and others on the business end have to say, since really copyrights are theoretically about creating incentives to make art. Negative, and you’d have the opposite conclusion. (Assuming you could get the “right” conclusions out of your data).

I have no idea what the stats are on professional musicians (do any of you?). And how would you define that? The number of musicians who make money from their work (many)? Or the number who live off their work (fewer)? Or the number of millionaires (very few)? It would be interesting to see these stats.

Does anyone know of such stats?


  1. Chris Hughes Chris Hughes 2007-08-31

    I do not have any stats. However, the most interesting thing I have read recently critiquing the music industry was a Rolling Stone interview with Steve Jobs.

    I suggest you read the whole thing, but the bit I was most interested in:

    “A young artist gets signed, and they get a big advance — a million dollars, or more. And the theory is that the record company will earn back that advance as the artist is successful.

    Except that even though they’re really good at picking, still, only one or two out of the ten that they pick is successful. And so, for most of the artists, they never earn back that advance — so they’re out that money. Well, who pays for the ones that are the losers? … The winners pay. The winners are paying for the losers, and the winners are not seeing rewards commensurate with their success. And so they get upset. So what’s the remedy? The remedy is to stop paying advances. The remedy is to go to a gross-revenues deal and to tell an artist: We’ll give you 20 cents on every dollar we get … but we’re not gonna give you an advance.”

    This model would really support the YouTube generation of Pro/Am talent, don’t you think?

  2. Justin Justin 2007-08-31

    I don’t have any stats as they pertain to music specifically. There are some stats that pertain to the arts and cultural sector overall but there are two problems with them. One is that they only measure these things every ten years or so, so short term trends are hard to spot. The second is that it’s hard to guage at what point someone reaches ‘professional’ status. There are alot of people who derive at least some income from ‘arts and culture’: a good guestimate would be close to a million. Sadly the size of the market makes it that much more difficult to do it full time.

    According to this study: the ‘average’ income for a full time artist – as of 2005 was around $23,500. Now if you factor in that in order to be a full time artist it is usually necessary to live in a major (expensive) urban center and the fact that there are many artists who make significantly more than that average and it paints a bleak picture for most of them.

    There has been a rise in recent years in artist run labels and co-operatives like Arts & Crafts which should help. Personally I’m not interested in the welfare of the big labels, I’m interested in artists (in music and elsewhere) being able to support themselves and focus on their art rather than work a full time day job and treat their art as a hobby – you just get better results (artistically) that way. This: is actually meant to fix that. It proposes creating an artificially larger market. So the number of people in Canada wouldn’t actually change, but in terms of arts and culture an individual in the Canadian market is worth more than an individual in the US or European markets. It would provide tax incentives for Canadians to spend more on arts and culture and allow Canadian artists to keep more of what they bring in.

  3. Mat Mat 2007-08-31

    I think more important quantity of musicians is the quality of the music we’re seeing, which is much more difficult to measure (though I suspect it too is rising).

  4. Hugh Hugh 2007-08-31

    mat, i think you’ll find a direct correlation between # of working musicians and the quality/diversity of music. and frankly, i would much prefer to have thousands of active musicians making a decent living, than tens of geniuses making millions.

  5. jeremy clarke jeremy clarke 2007-08-31

    I love that when henderson says “a succession of Canadian governments have sat on their hands and done nothing.” he’s talking about insanely stupid ideas like enforcing DRM. Yeah, Graham, making laws to stop piracy has really worked out for the US to stop the stealing of music hasn’t it. I only hope that one day Canada can have a war on drugs like the US too, so we won’t have any more of that either.

    Sorry to be so cliche with the war on drugs stuff, I just hate that jerks like Henderson can act as if there’s a solution to the problem IF ONLY WE WERE WILLING TO ACT ON IT. There is no solution to people downloading music. The fact is that audio can be effectively ripped at a resolution high enough that we all agree it’s plenty beautiful, and don’t need more. So even if they stop people from COPYING the tracks they buy, the tracks will be rippable as long as people are able to listen to it (hmmm, if only we could stop this pesky ‘listening’ problem). The only way to force people to buy your stuff is to force them to use devices that don’t play the ripped tracks, which means devices that don’t play the formats people want. Obviously, this it what DRM enforcement is all about.

    Back to drugs, I’m thinking we install chemical controls in the brains of everyone (a la Neuromancer) and block all known drugs from being absorbed. Then people can’t do drugs! Or, that is, until the people come up with a new drug that isn’t blocked, or new versions of old drugs… Oh well. If we don’t try the proposed ‘install chemical blocks in people’s brains and don’t let people remove them’ solution, then how will we know that it wouldn’t have worked?

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