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The Death of The Recordings-Sale Industry

By Matthew Yglesias on February 19, 2011 at 8:31 am

"The Death of The Recordings-Sale Industry"

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Via Brad DeLong a striking chart that’s mislabeled “The Death Of The Music Industry”:

This measures something that’s both larger and smaller than the “music” industry. The newspaper industry isn’t the words industry or even the news industry. People still listen to music. People still play music. People who play music even still earn money. But the business of selling recordings of music is shrinking. Which, of course, is exactly what ought to be happening to it. Distributing a digital copy of an album to a person’s computer is much cheaper than manufacturing and distributing a physical CD to a retail store. In a competitive market, the price of a widget ought to approximate the marginal cost of producing an additional widget. That’s one reason why this blog is free to read. Thanks to copyright, a recordings-seller does have some level of market power to allow him to seek monopoly rents. But there’s a pretty high degree of substitutability between different songs, so the competition is still pretty intense and the prices are low.

This is one reason why I would discourage bands from trying to underprice tickets at their own shows as a reward to fans. Since digital copies of recordings are non-rival and basically free to make, any non-zero sale price entails some deadweight loss. And since concert tickets are necessarily scarce, any sub-market price entails some deadweight loss. The optimal strategy for a popular band that wants to do something nice is market pricing for concert tickets, plus free recordings. Or even better, you could release your records into the public domain.

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