Business Matters: The Death of the Album Review?
Business Matters: The Death of the Album Review?

The Death of the Album Review?
-- Is the album review destined to decline in importance as the album format loses ground to songs and playlists? LA Weekly's Ben Westhoff mentioned - almost in passing - that the alternative weekly has stopped printing album reviews. He admits this might not be a big loss. "Nobody read them," he explains. "And we know this with certainty because not a single person has complained."

Westhoff's article argues nobody cares what other people are listening to on Spotify (which is possible via Spotify's partnership with Facebook). And he readily admits people don't want to know with great detail what LA Weekly writers have been listening to lately. "It's hard to imagine a worse fate than having to hear what we listen to while jogging," he quips.

But maybe the reason LA Weekly's album reviews haven't been missed is because there are too many other sources to discover new music. Social media is just the latest development. The rise of the music blog led to decreased reliance on album reviews in newspapers and magazines. Recommendation engines offer a level of personalization unmatched by music critics. Word of mouth spreads effortlessly online. The bottom-up nature of social media reduces the need - not entirely replaces - for of music criticism that is top-down in nature.

But fret not, fans of carefully crafted album reviews. If the album still has life, the album review still has life, too. As Billboard.biz reported Wednesday, album sales rose 1.3 percent in 2011 - the first increase since 2004 - and digital album sales were up 18.5 percent. Even Spotify is helping keep the album format alive with apps by Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and The Guardian that offer album reviews and one-click streaming within the Spotify desktop app. ( LA Weekly)

"Billions" Proliferates in Streaming Media
-- There's one word you're going to notice more in articles about streaming media: billions. Case in point: Netflix announced Wednesday it streamed over 2 billion hours to over 20 million customers in 45 countries during the fourth quarter of 2011. Investors were thrilled with the news. Netflix's stock surged 11.4 percent to $80.45 on Wednesday, increasing its market value $431 million. That's a big one-day gain, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to the $5.59 billion (with a b) in market capitalization Netflix lost in 2011 (the stock dropped from $175.70 to $69.29).

Streaming figures now routinely reach into the billions for music videos, too. A few weeks ago, Vevo projected it would stream 3.7 billion video views in December. At three minutes per video, that's 11.1 billion minutes in a single month. Two years ago it streamed 340 million videos in a single month.

And let's not forget that Pandora has been streaming hundreds of billions of minutes content each month for some time. In the quarter ended October 31, 2011, Pandora, which currently has a market capitalization of $1.63 billion, had 2.1 billion listening hours. That works out to be about 121 billion listening minutes (the company measures listening hours in billions, not minutes) in a three-month period. That's 100 million hours more than Netflix streamed in its latest quarter - but done only in the U.S. At its current growth rate, Pandora should hit the 1 billion listener hours per month sometime in 2012. ( Netflix press release)

How to Make People Pay for Music: Make It Easy …

-- There's a long-held belief that people will buy music if you make it easy for them to buy. Reduce the friction between awareness and purchase that otherwise drives consumers away (the need to offer a good user experience applies to shoes as well as music). Offer the formats consumers want (rights owners failed consumers when DRM was mandatory for digital downloads).

So, one reason people don't buy music is because it's not easy enough to find what they're looking for. In some cases, finding an illegal download is easier than finding the legal one. But Bandcamp has found people have bought music even when they intended to get it for free. CEO Ethan Diamond explains at the Bandcamp blog:

"For example, just this morning someone paid $10 for an album after Googling 'lelia broussard torrent.' A bit later, a fan plunked down $17 after searching for 'murder by death, skeletons in the closet, mediafire.' Then a $15 sale came in from the search 'maimouna youssef the blooming hulkshare.' Then a fan made a $12 purchase after clicking a link on music torrent tracker What.CD. Then someone spent $10 after following a link on The Pirate Bay, next to the plea 'They sell their album as a download on their website. You can even choose your format (mp3, ogg, flac, etc). Cmon, support this awesome band!'"

Will piracy drop to zero through smarter use of search engine optimization? No. Will artists make more money if they adhere to proven principle of e-commerce? Most likely, yeah. Diamond sees these examples as proof of "a thriving community of fans who understand that the best way to support the artists they love is by handing them money." He also notes that Bandcamp artists racked up sales of over $1 million in December. A thriving community indeed. (Bandcamp blog)

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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