Chuck Klosterman Gets It: People Are Broke, Illegal Downloading Is Easy

AP060711030373.jpg With complex theories endlessly bandied about and “vinyl is back!” prayers going unanswered everywhere, leave it to Chuck Klosterman to drop a common-sense take on the decline of the music industry. It’s not about poor product, or poor corporate structuring. People just don’t want to spend money on stuff they can get for free. “Because four-minute digital-song files are relatively small (and thus easily compressed), ripping tracks for free became the easiest way to eliminate an extraneous cost. It wasn’t political or countercultural, and it had almost nothing to do with music itself. It was fiscally practical. It was the first, best solution.”

It would seem there are two elementary reasons why the decline in revenue happened: a) illegal file-sharing and b) heightened consumer selectivity. File-sharing has been written about extensively, so there is no need to readdress it here. The term “heightened consumer selectivity” is really just a manifestation of iTunes — if someone is obsessed with the song “1 2 3 4” but has no interest in the Feist catalog, he can acquire the single for ninety-nine cents instead of blowing sixteen dollars on a full album he’d never play twice. But here’s where the math gets less clear and more meaningful: These trends don’t involve everyone. Your grandma is not using LimeWire. The 2.6 million people who love the Eagles are still going to Wal-Mart to buy the physical CD. In practice, it’s only a select class of computer-savvy consumers who are making this dramatic revenue shift happen — almost exclusively music fans under the age of forty who a) used to buy a few albums every other Tuesday but b) now buy virtually none over the course of an entire year.

…People didn’t stop buying albums because they were philosophically opposed to how the rock business operated, and they didn’t stop buying albums because the Internet is changing the relationship between capitalism and art. People stopped buying albums because they wanted the fucking money. It’s complicated, but it’s not.

While he does get lost on a tangent about college credit card purchases in the early ’90s–can’t expect a man who named a book about the summer he almost had sex with three women Killing Yourself To Live to get his head entirely out of his ass–the piece is refreshingly shrewd about how much the fall in CD sales has to do with its ease and the average computer-literate young person’s desire to free up some discretionary income. I’m still going to yell “and you wonder why music sales are going down?” during next MTV Video Music Awards, though.

Anyone seen my $4.2 billion? [Esquire]