Antitrust & Competition Policy Blog

Editor: D. Daniel Sokol
University of Florida
Levin College of Law

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

And the Bands Played on: Digital Disintermediation and the Quality of New Recorded Music

Posted by D. Daniel Sokol

Joel Waldfogel, University of Minnesota has a really interesting paper, And the Bands Played on: Digital Disintermediation and the Quality of New Recorded Music.

ABSTRACT: Although revenue for recorded music has collapsed since the explosion of file sharing, results elsewhere suggest that the quality of new music has not suffered. One possible explanation is that digitization has allowed a wider range of firms to bring far more music to market using lower-cost methods of production, distribution, and promotion. Record labels have traditionally found it difficult to predict which albums will find commercial success, so many released albums fail while many nascent but unreleased albums might have been successful. Forces raising the number of products released may allow consumers to discover more appealing choices if they can sift through the offerings. Digitization has promoted both Internet radio and a growing cadre of online music reviewers, providing alternatives to radio airplay as means for new product discovery. To explore this, I assemble data on new works of recorded music released between 1980 and 2010, along with data on particular albums’ sales, airplay on both traditional and Internet radio, and album reviews at Metacritic since 2000. First, I document that despite a substantial drop in major-label album releases, the total quantity of new albums released annually has increased sharply since 2000, driven by independent labels and purely digital products. Second, increased product availability has been accompanied by a reduction in the concentration of sales in the top albums. Third, new information channels – Internet radio and online criticism – change the number and kinds of products about which consumers have information. Fourth, in the past dozen years, increasing numbers of albums find commercial success without substantial traditional airplay. Finally, albums from independent labels – which previously might not have made it to market – account for a growing share of commercially successful albums.

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