By MATHEW INGRAM
Monday, April 28, 2008
The traditional record industry is in upheaval, as CD sales slide and illegal downloading continues to climb. Some artists, such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, have been able to make money by taking their music directly to their fans. But can connecting with their fans directly replace the traditional record label model?
Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of Wired magazine, has been looking at the idea of artists making a living from what his colleague Chris Anderson calls "The Long Tail" - the niche markets that exist outside of the mass market, which the Web makes possible to tap. He admits the Long Tail is "a decidedly mixed blessing for creators." The phenomenon doesn't raise the sales of most artists, but does add "massive competition and endless downward pressure on prices."
At the same time, Kelly's theory is that it should be possible for artists to succeed provided they can come up with what he calls 1,000 "true fans." If each of these fans either pays for music or buys other content that is worth $100 or so a year, then an artist should be able to make a living, he argues. But is that possible?
On his blog, Kelly describes a letter he received from Robert Rich, a musician who specializes in what's called "ambient" music, and had a couple of mainstream hits in the 1980s. Rich says he has been able to support himself by marketing to loyal fans - but just barely.
"If it weren't for the expansion of the Internet and new means of distribution and promotion, I would have given up a long time ago," Rich says. "In this sense, I agree wholeheartedly that new technologies have opened the door for artists like me to survive. But it's a constant struggle." The musician describes how he is "my own booking agent, my own manager, my own contract attorney, my own driver, my own roadie. I sleep on people's couches, or occasionally enjoy the luxuries of Motel 6."