With the rise of the digital age, music has ceased to become something we own as much as something we rent. One format, once thought of as obsolete, is shifting this new balance, however. Here we look at why ownership of music is still important, and how vinyl is making it relevant again.
Guest post by Mark Henshall of Sound Matters
Since the birth of the internet, music has shifted from being something we own to something we rent. This shift in consumer mindset is simultaneously destroying the value of music and driving a resurgence in a format once written off as obsolete. Marc Henshall, Editor at Sound Matters explains why that might not be such a bad thing.
‘Everything you can imagine is real’, a wise man once said. Pablo Picasso, to be exact. Picasso's words may offer motivation to those seeking creative inspiration, but his words got me thinking instead about how we now consume music.
Streaming now accounts for over 63% of music consumption - that's a huge chunk of the market. At the same time, CD sales plummeted by 23% last year while vinyl continued to show modest growth of 1.6% on the previous year. It's a similar story in the US, where the most recent figures released by the RIAA revealed that streaming accounted for 65% of the market. In parallel to this, it was also revealed that physical music sales had out-sold digital downloads for the first time.
The pattern is clear; consumers are turning to music streaming services for day-to-day music consumption, while a growing number of listeners invest in vinyl as a physical way to own music.
Why might this be the case? Quite simply, we value the things we own, and as convenient as digital streaming might be we are still as humans very attached to the things we own. Psychologists studying our attachment to physical items will often refer to this behaviour as the ‘Endowment effect’, which is the belief that people ascribe more value to things as soon as they own them. Interestingly, once we ‘own’ an item, we are also much less likely to swap it for an alternative. We believe the objects we own have a unique essence; we become attached, and if I were to say, offer to swap your mint first pressing of Dark Side of the Moon, for another just like it, chances are you'd still want ‘your copy’.
We also place greater value on physical items when compared to their digital counterparts, as demonstrated in a recent Journal of Consumer Research study, where hundreds of American’s were asked to say what they were willing to pay for either physical or digital versions of the book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and physical or digital versions of the movie Dark Knight. The participants placed a higher value on the physical copies, and this seemed to be because they expected to have a stronger sense of ownership. For the physical copy, they agreed more strongly with statements like ‘I will feel like I own it’.
Clearly, there's something in our human nature that still desires to own the physical copy. Streaming is very convenient and cost-effective, and for this reason, I believe it is here to stay as the dominant medium. But how many times do we hear about music fans first streaming an album before going out to buy it on vinyl? There's plenty of studies out there to suggest that, if anything, far from competing with vinyl, streaming is actually feeding record sales.
While it might remain a niche market, the continued success of vinyl offers some hope for the continued value of music in our society, which I believe has taken a huge hit over recent years. By this, I mean that while I understand and embrace the technology we enjoy today, I really think we’ve lost something by surrendering our ownership of music as a physical product. We’ve travelled a journey from full physical ownership, to digital ownership, and ultimately rental of music through streaming services.
It's no coincidence that the last couple of decades lack identity musically. Think of the 60s and you might think Woodstock, think of the 70s and it's Rock, Punk and Disco – even the 90s were broadly defined by Grunge and Brit Pop. The last 20 years don't quite stack up in quite the same way, and arguably, the missing link is music ownership. The resurgence in vinyl has bought significance back to the physical product, and that can only be a positive thing for music lovers. All that we can imagine isn't quite enough, it would seem.
Sound Matters was created by music enthusiast and marketing professional, Marc Henshall. Born from a passion for great quality sound and the importance of music in our society, Marc is on a mission to help music lovers get a more authentic experience from their music in the digital age. Since its birth, Sound Matters has steadily grown from a small blog to a flourishing online magazine that is making real waves among audiophile circles. Check out the Sound Matters website or follow Sound Matters on Twitter @sound_matters