"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.
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.