There’s a website called Electronista that blames the precipitous drop in music sales on iTunes and the iPod, quoting NBC News’ Peter Alexander as saying “with 120 million iPods sold since 2001, digital downloads of individual songs are through the roof, soaring 500% in the last three years. In that same period, CD’s sales of declined dramatically, as listeners prefer hits over to entire albums.”
This type of sloppy reporting would have gotten me thrown out of Journalism school. I’m sure his numbers are right, but mp3s and mp3 players existed well before the iPod, and iTunes is not a bootlegging service: you pay for your music. Presumably, if the record companies aren’t ripping off the artists (which, ahem, has been known to happen), the artists are getting their fair share of the pie.
I know I’m going to get a ton of e-mails from Suits trying to redefine the argument in terms of bootlegging and that’s what is bringing music to its doom. To which I quote Sherman Potter: Horse hockey.
People always bootlegged music, ever since the inexpensive cassette recorder debuted in the late 1960s. You’d buy a record, you’d knock off a copy for your friends. People shared more in those days. This practice is so prevalent that some countries charge a bootlegging tax on blank media, the revenue from which going to a common fund for creators. It was no big deal then, and it’s no big deal today.
Bootlegging is a massive problem overseas, particularly in China where international copyright laws are just so much toilet paper. That’s a different argument, and I’m sympathetic to that one. But it’s a slight-of-hand argument these people use, to quote Governor William J. La Pétomane, “to keep their phony baloney jobs.”
There are two reasons why music sales are down. First, the music sucks. Even when you compare previous records by the same artists; if the new stuff doesn’t sell as well as the previous, by and large the public thinks it isn’t as good, Michael Jackson notwithstanding. Certainly not for $15.00 to $20.00 per. More likely, we’ll go to iTunes for the hits at a buck a pop.
Second: commercial radio sucks. There are about a half-dozen guys in America who are all Matrix clones. They decide what very few new records are going to get airplay throughout the nation, as the vast majority of stations are owned by about a half-dozen companies. If something works, these guys imitate it to death until the advertisers squawk.
This didn’t use to be a problem. No one company owned more than fourteen stations nationwide. They used to pride themselves on being the first in their market – or in the nation – to “break” a new hit record. They’d take chances, and every week they’d try out about 10 new records.
Now, radio is boring on its best day. That’s why Internet and satellite radio is so popular among the cultural intelligencia: that’s where the good stuff can be found, almost always without nauseating commercials from Bob’s Discount Furniture. And that’s why companies like CBS, Clear Channel, Cumulus and Citadel are doing their best to kill them: in the aggregate, they’re sucking away listeners. HD Radio? Right, like I’m going to trust you assholes with my $400.00.
So what does this have to do with comic books? It says right up there in the headline “Rock and Roll and Comic Books.”
Most commercial comics just aren’t worth three or four bucks for a ten minute read. Not to any but the hardcore readers who shop at an ever dimensioning number of comic book stores, assuming they can find one. Most communities cannot support a comics shop; on average, there’s less than one shop for every 30 cities and towns in the United States. If you live in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, you’re screwing up the national average.
The trade paperback business is booming in the big box bookstores, but if you eliminate manga and those properties with obvious movie tie-ins, you’re lucky to sell a few thousand trades in these venues alone. They only make economic sense when you factor in online sales and comics shops. There’s a lot of creativity in the nooks and crannies of a Borders, and there’s a good chance non-fans will find it because of our increased visibility in the media.
But just like new music, the real creativity in comics is to be found on the Internet. There are thousands of wonderful, exciting, fantastic, interestingly depressing, even suicidal comics done by professionals and amateurs alike, some (most) without compensation until the day they “make it.” Just like new musicians and all other artists. But keep this in mind: the readership your average DC or Marvel comic book are a drop in the bucket compared to that of a great many online comics.
New music and new comics share the same future. And that future is very bright, indeed.
ComicMix's award-winning and spectacularly shy editor-in-chief Mike Gold also performs the weekly two-hour Weird Sounds Inside The Gold Mind ass-kicking rock, blues and blather radio show on The Point, www.getthepointradio.com and on iNetRadio, www.iNetRadio.com (search: Hit Oldies) every Sunday at 7:00 PM Eastern, rebroadcast three times during the week – check www.getthepointradio.com above for times and on-demand streaming information.