Last week I had an article up on Nippon.com about the fall in Japanese music industry revenue in 2013. A few places made a big deal last year about how Japan bucked the global trend and posted growth in 2012, but as I said at the time, those figures were a blip largely down to a load of albums and compilations by venerable oldies. In the article I break down the figures a bit more, but the gist of it is that they really have to start figuring out ways to make the Web work for them. Figures for online music sales have been disastrous and the Japanese music industry can’t keep relying on millions of what are essentially dummy sales from AKB48 and its sister groups to keep its numbers up.
It’s not a complete disaster, and as I mention in the article, the dramatic fall of 2013 is really just the fall that the trendline predicted for 2012 (and which was disguised by the confluence of comebacks and re-releases) plus another for last year. I still don’t know if Spotify and other streaming sites are the answer, and I’m kind of resentful of the way so many new platforms keep appearing and jostling to undercut each other by paying labels and artists less and less each time. All the arguments I see in favour of Spotify seem to fall into two main categories:
(1) Look at Scandinavia: labels make more money off Spotify than they ever did off real sales. My question here is, “Who is making that money?” If most of that is just people going back and listening to old artists they already know, or big artists that are promoted a lot, then it’s not working in the long run.
(2) Look at me: I didn’t use to make much money off CDs, but now I’m raking it in off Spotify plays. In this instance I’m instantly suspicious of any anecdotal arguments because there are so many reasons why something can take off and those conditions are not necessarily replicable.
Whatever happens in japan, the majors will find a way of sewing it up for their own benefit, while all the best, most talented, most interesting and imaginative musicians will be left fighting over scraps. In that sense, I don’t see things being that different for the music I actually care about. For pop, I’m sure if there’s a way of making it worse, someone is already busily working on making that happen, but it remains to be seen.