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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.