Man Masters Flight, and Music Goes Digital

Between the lawsuits against file-sharers and news of Radiohead’s digital-only album release, the digital distribution of music has become a big story. We recently hosted our own discussion on the issue here..

But for some people, this is very old news.

Take the case of Peter Alexander, an economist in Washington, D.C., who has been researching and writing about the music industry for more than a decade. In 1994, he published a paper in the Journal of Cultural Economics called “New Technology and Market Structure: Evidence from the Music Recording Industry.” The paper’s final section argued that “[b]ecause the products of the music recording industry are produced using digital sequences identical to those of computers, [a] distribution network might evolve as computer networks and digital information highways develop and deepen.”

But his editors weren’t exactly sold on the idea. As Alexander wrote to us:

Back in 1993, when I first submitted the article and wrote about the potential for digital distribution in the music industry, the editors fought me tooth and nail to leave the material out, since it was “merely speculative.” Moreover, my colleagues at the time laughed about the whole idea and called me Jules Verne. By the way, the Harvard Business Review (where I first submitted the paper) thought digital distribution was nonsense, and wouldn’t publish it. So I do give the Journal of Cultural Economics credit for doing so.

Looks like Alexander’s skeptics and Lord Kelvin had something in common.

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  1. scout29c says:

    Lord Kelvin’s quote was dated 1895. The Wright Brothers proved him wrong in 1903 with a motorized kite that was actually not heavier than a strong breeze. And here we are now going to the moon and flying willy-nilly all over the place.

    A hundred years from now, will Alexander’s critics be as wrong as Lord Kelvin is today?

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  2. scout29c says:

    Lord Kelvin’s quote was dated 1895. The Wright Brothers proved him wrong in 1903 with a motorized kite that was actually not heavier than a strong breeze. And here we are now going to the moon and flying willy-nilly all over the place.

    A hundred years from now, will Alexander’s critics be as wrong as Lord Kelvin is today?

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  3. Andrew Smith says:

    Music has only been recorded (with some coherent fidelity) since the mid-early 20th century, and even now it still fails to attain the power of a live performance–that is, different sounds coming from different places, reverberating acoustically.

    I’m not concerned about the music industry. If anything, this digitalization should increase the appetite for live performances. Maybe the CEOs can become stage managers.

    Aside– Radiohead increasing their fan base? Their concerts sell out in moments, then their tickets are scalped for appendages. They couldn’t manage any more fans. The new album doesn’t even touch Kid A or OK Computer anyway. It’s not self-promotion, it’s self-indulgence.

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  4. Andrew Smith says:

    Music has only been recorded (with some coherent fidelity) since the mid-early 20th century, and even now it still fails to attain the power of a live performance–that is, different sounds coming from different places, reverberating acoustically.

    I’m not concerned about the music industry. If anything, this digitalization should increase the appetite for live performances. Maybe the CEOs can become stage managers.

    Aside– Radiohead increasing their fan base? Their concerts sell out in moments, then their tickets are scalped for appendages. They couldn’t manage any more fans. The new album doesn’t even touch Kid A or OK Computer anyway. It’s not self-promotion, it’s self-indulgence.

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  5. the other MB says:

    The smart CEOs are already stage managers of sorts. What was everyone paying attention to — or, I guess I should say, distracted by — when Clear Channel and its ilk quietly acquired controlling interests in performance venues both national and international?

    I don’t know what journalistic ethics prohibited Mr. Alexander’s editors from publishing his commentary if they thought it speculative, but I could certainly understand it — if not necessarily approve — if those editors believed that keeping their jobs was contingent on pleasing the CEOs of the media conglomerates for whom they worked, who wouldn’t want their readers to know about Napster?

    Come on, people. You read the Times. Follow the money.

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  6. the other MB says:

    The smart CEOs are already stage managers of sorts. What was everyone paying attention to — or, I guess I should say, distracted by — when Clear Channel and its ilk quietly acquired controlling interests in performance venues both national and international?

    I don’t know what journalistic ethics prohibited Mr. Alexander’s editors from publishing his commentary if they thought it speculative, but I could certainly understand it — if not necessarily approve — if those editors believed that keeping their jobs was contingent on pleasing the CEOs of the media conglomerates for whom they worked, who wouldn’t want their readers to know about Napster?

    Come on, people. You read the Times. Follow the money.

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  7. Beerzie says:

    What is absurd about all of this is that file sharing and Internet radio exposes people to a broader spectrum of music than they would ever get from radio, thus increasing demand. This is far a more robust marketing tool for record companies than regular or satellite’s radio, and it just proves that the music industry is run by fools who are intent on nickel and diming the public rather than figuring out how to take advantage of the changes in technology.

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  8. Beerzie says:

    What is absurd about all of this is that file sharing and Internet radio exposes people to a broader spectrum of music than they would ever get from radio, thus increasing demand. This is far a more robust marketing tool for record companies than regular or satellite’s radio, and it just proves that the music industry is run by fools who are intent on nickel and diming the public rather than figuring out how to take advantage of the changes in technology.

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