Music Roundup: Charts To Reflect Reality, Nora Jones Perseveres, and The Police Looked Really Old


The bloated Grammy Awards show Sunday night did not reflect the many changes happening in the music business now. In the UK, the BBC reports that the main sales charts will now include digital sales. As more legitimate sales move online, this will mean that groups like Snow Patrol, which the BBC notes receive a disproportionate amount of their sales online, will now have their sales accurately reflected. As digital grows, this could be the most wide-ranging change in counting music sales since the early 1990s, when a change in how record sales in the U.S. were counted led to a realization that country, hip hop, and reissues were more popular than previously noted. Accurate numbers? That’s a relative rarity for an industry that still thinks its future is somehow dependent on suing innovators and customers.
Last week, before we learned that EMI had brought its own sense of reality to the fore by negotiating the potential distribution of its catalog without DRM, we speculated that its big album for the quarter, the new one by Nora Jones, might not fare well in the marketplace. Turns out Jones is doing just fine. Her first week U.S. sales topped 405,000. Thirteen percent of those sales, roughly 50,000 units were in digital form, and she sold more than 28,000 individual tracks from the album in the first week. The record topped iTunes sales in 20 countries.
Jones wasn’t at the Grammys Sunday night, where the Dixie Chicks were the big winners. Early reports suggest only a slight bump in their sales at retail. Online, where most of the music being downloaded is still illicit, they haven’t made an impact at all: the top tracks at the major peer-to-peer services were, as usual, all hip hop.
Despite charts getting more realistic and Jones, a performer whose audience skews older, having an OK first week online, the record industry is still run by people still trying to sell older music to older people. The big news in digital catalogs still revolves around The Beatles, and this year’s Grammy Awards show — frequently hyped as a showcase for new performers — kicked off with the reunited Police playing “Roxanne,” a song they first recorded when Jimmy Carter was president. That’s before the core pop-music audience was even born.
EMI’s Apparent Business Model: Slower Deals, More Returns
EMI Said To Be in Talks to Sell Music Online Sans DRM



Ah, Jimmy, you're missing the point. The Police were there to draw ratings. Who the heck would wanna watch that stupid show anyway? Plus, The Police summer tour will likely be among the top concert moneymakers for the year (if the bandmembers keep it together for the course of it).

And Glenn's right about the catalog action – older artists are the cash cow of the record industry.


From your tone I sense you think it's a bad idea to sell older artists. (Actually, your tone suggests its flat out idiocy.) In some ways I'm in agreement. Those Michael Bolton oldies cover albums were probably a bad idea. But kids are listening to a ton of classic rock these days, and there's a good reason why labels are currently emphasizing older artists: They are purchased by older consumers with more cash and a greater propensity to actually buy music. How is that anything but a good strategy when sales are hard to come by?

There are other strategies in the works. paidContent covers them just about every day. The next ten years has more in store than Norah Jones CD sales at Starbucks. Unfortunately for the labels, the market is not ready to shift its full weight behind MySpace, iTunes, YouTube, etc. You should know this. These deals you write about have a small impact compared to what Wal-Mart can move in a few weeks. While labels are finally getting around to planning for the future, there are going to be a lot of earnings releases between now and then. Lots to worry about here and now.

Even if content owners make every licensing deal that crosses their desks, we're years away from anything truly substantial coming from them. The next generation's infrastructure — who actually deal with consumers, take their money, do the credit card transactions, run the ads — is not currently in a position to do much for the content owners. In the meantime, those Norah Jones albums will make a few bucks and the Police reunion will move some catalog units.

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