This account is pending registration confirmation. Please click on the link within the confirmation email previously sent you to complete registration.
Need a new registration confirmation email? Click here
See Cramer's multi-million dollar portfolio for FREE and get his new book Get Rich Carefully! Learn More

The Digital Skeptic: Here's All the Music Money Lost to the Web

EN ROUTE TO VENICE, Italy (TheStreet) -- When Liz Kennedy called to tell me I could touch every music industry sale for the past 40 years, I had no idea it would feel this sad.

It's not her fault. Kennedy is the very professional director of communications for Washington, D.C.-based Recording Industry Association of America. She is the gatekeeper -- among her other duties -- of the so-called Industry Shipment Statistics database.

Here, since 1973, the RIAA has kept a running tab of how much music giants such as the Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment or Universal Music Group sold in any recorded format: CDs, vinyl disks, download singles, cassettes, 8-track tapes -- if it made music and somebody paid for it, the yearly totals go here.


"We are very proud of the depth and transparency of this database," Kennedy told me. "It's a fantastic resource for anybody looking at the scope of our business."

Kennedy was granting me run of the place: I could model, sample and tinker with the numbers, as long as I gave the association credit. But now, taxiing for takeoff flying to the once-and-future monument of decay -- Venice, Italy -- all I can say is, it's stunning how sad a song these numbers sing.

Musicians really are innovators
The single greatest takeaway of wandering through four decades of music sales and revenue data is how this industry reinvents itself in the face of technological change. Heavens, there were lame ideas: the CD single, music kiosk or DVD audio? Please. And money was lost. Roughly $400 million went away when the vinyl single business went south in the late '70s.

It took until the early '80s for the cassette to replace those sales.

But overall, time and again, the music industry faced a new tech world order, embraced it, found an audience with it and made money. It all culminated with a remarkable 1999 peak of 1.3 billion total units sold, earning North American revenues of $19 billion or so.


Then the digital Terminator dropped from the sky, and the music biz became just another John Connor huddling in the wreckage trying to stay alive.

Select the service that is right for you!

COMPARE ALL SERVICES
Action Alerts PLUS
Try it NOW

Jim Cramer and Stephanie Link actively manage a real portfolio and reveal their money management tactics while giving advanced notice before every trade.

Product Features:
  • $2.5+ million portfolio
  • Large-cap and dividend focus
  • Intraday trade alerts from Cramer
  • Weekly roundups
TheStreet Quant Ratings
Try it NOW
Only $49.95/yr

Access the tool that DOMINATES the Russell 2000 and the S&P 500.

Product Features:
  • Buy, hold, or sell recommendations for over 4,300 stocks
  • Unlimited research reports on your favorite stocks
  • A custom stock screener
  • Upgrade/downgrade alerts
Stocks Under $10
Try it NOW

David Peltier, uncovers low dollar stocks with extraordinary upside potential that are flying under Wall Street's radar.

Product Features:
  • Model portfolio
  • Stocks trading below $10
  • Intraday trade alerts
  • Weekly roundups
Dividend Stock Advisor
Try it NOW

Jim Cramer's protege, David Peltier, identifies the best of breed dividend stocks that will pay a reliable AND significant income stream.

Product Features:
  • Diversified model portfolio of dividend stocks
  • Alerts when market news affect the portfolio
  • Bi-weekly updates with exact steps to take - BUY, HOLD, SELL
Real Money Pro
Try it NOW

All of Real Money, plus 15 more of Wall Street's sharpest minds delivering actionable trading ideas, a comprehensive look at the market, and fundamental and technical analysis.

Product Features:
  • Real Money + Doug Kass Plus 15 more Wall Street Pros
  • Intraday commentary & news
  • Ultra-actionable trading ideas
Options Profits
Try it NOW

Our options trading pros provide daily market commentary and over 100 monthly option trading ideas and strategies to help you become a well-seasoned trader.

Product Features:
  • 100+ monthly options trading ideas
  • Actionable options commentary & news
  • Real-time trading community
  • Options TV
To begin commenting right away, you can log in below using your Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, OpenID or Yahoo login credentials. Alternatively, you can post a comment as a "guest" just by entering an email address. Your use of the commenting tool is subject to multiple terms of service/use and privacy policies - see here for more details.
DOW 16,408.54 -16.31 -0.10%
S&P 500 1,864.85 +2.54 0.14%
NASDAQ 4,095.5160 +9.2910 0.23%

Brokerage Partners

Rates from Bankrate.com

  • Mortgage
  • Credit Cards
  • Auto
Advertising Partners

Free Newsletters from TheStreet

My Subscriptions:

After the Bell

Before the Bell

Booyah! Newsletter

Midday Bell

TheStreet Top 10 Stories

Winners & Losers

Register for Newsletters
Top Rated Stocks Top Rated Funds Top Rated ETFs