Check out this intriguing article in The Guardian for another view on why the record industry is facing problems. I'd recommend reading it in full (it's not too long, and if you have time also look at the linked-to article where Ben Goldacre scrutinizes some industry statistics), but in summary, the writer Charles Arthur suggests that it's the booming video games industry, not MP3 filesharing, that's the main cause of the record industry shrinking between 10-15% every year for the last four or five years. Arthur's argument is that levels of disposable income are pretty stable, but people are spending over three times more now on video games than they were a decade ago. So, something's got to give. He's drawn this graph with British figures:
When people are deciding how to spend limited amounts of money, it's no surprise that they spend it where they can't otherwise get free or cheap adequate replacements. The internet is full of free music -- legal and illegal -- and there's also lots of low-quality videos and films to view; but it isn't full of free Nintendo Wii games. And while games have got more innovative and more involving, and television and DVD technology has improved so that home movie viewing is better than ever, the major music technology innovation of recent years - the MP3 and the portable MP3 player - is a downgrade in quality which favors convenience over engagement. Put like that, it's no surprise that the big money is heading towards video games, DVDs are doing very well, and it's the CD market that's losing out.
So what's the best way to analyze such an important issue? With personal, anecdotal evidence, of course! As a male between the ages of 15-30, I'm in a key demographic for both music and gaming, and I can confirm that my games purchases have dwindled to zero while my CD and vinyl buying has grown to addiction-level heights. But if I was still into gaming, I wouldn't have the money to buy all the music I do - and if I bought three games a month (as said, the games industry has apparently tripled in size in the last decade), there's no way I could afford to buy music.
Of course, people who pirate lots of music and never pay anything back are still stealing. Access to music isn't a right, it's a privilege, because musicians put a lot of time and money into doing what they do, and they need to be remunerated. But what this article suggests is that it's not a simple case of every illegal download equaling a lost CD sale; it's that music suffers from being the most easily available form of entertainment, generally, in a very competitive marketplace. It also perhaps offers hope that when the games industry stops growing and hits a glass ceiling, the record industry might also hit a glass floor, from where it can reassess and seek to grow again.
So, it might not be CDs and legal MP3s versus illegal MP3s, but CDs and MP3s versus games. Do you agree? How have your gaming habits affected the music you buy (or don't buy)?