The Rise And Fall Of The RIAA

from the predicting-the-end dept

We recently had a post questioning whether the RIAA's legal campaign was a success or not. It seemed like there was plenty of evidence that it has been an incredible failure. Separately, we had a post about Radiohead's Thom Yorke, suggesting that the major record labels were going out of business in a matter of months. While we felt that was a bit of an exaggeration, one of our commenters, Ccomp5950 compiled data on RIAA label sales, along with some helpful notes about what other factors were going on at the time:
Year: $ in Millions
1992: 9024
1993: 10046.6 (CD players started to get more affordable towards mid-year)
1994: 12068
1995: 12320.3
1996: 12533.8
1997: 12236.8
1998: 13723.4
1999: 14651 (Work made for hire controversy)
2000: 14404 (Napster sued into bankruptcy)
2001: 13700 (Ipod came out October 2001)
2002: 12,614.2 (Price Fixing lawsuit hits RIAA)
2003: 11,854.4 (Grokster lawsuit, "induced infringement" introduced) (Mass lawsuits by RIAA start(AKA: The education campaign))
2004: 12,345.0 [Revenue Physical / Digital] (BMG gets out of the music business, sold to Sony later on: Big 5 becomes Big 4 for RIAA)
2005: 12,296.9 [91%/9%]
2006: 11,758.2 [83.9%/16.1%]
2007: 10,370.0 [77%/23%]
2008: 8,768.4 [66%/34%] (RIAA declares it's going to stop mass lawsuits with member money problems and EMI almost bankrupt)
2009: 7,690.0 [59%/41%] (Massive layoffs hit RIAA around Febuary: Blames piracy)

Sources: (statistics from 90's to 2001) (Statistics for 97 to 2007) (2008-2009)
It's a great list, but I felt it could be even more powerful as a graph, so I just threw the following together, based on the info above:
And, that, right there, does a nice job painting a picture on the decline and fall of the RIAA and the major record labels. A few points are worth highlighting:
  • If you're not familiar with the "works for hire" scandal, you can read the full background here. Basically, a Congressional staffer by the name of Mitch Glazier snuck a tiny unnoticed amendment into a much larger bill in the middle of the night -- supposedly at the request of the RIAA -- without telling anyone. It effectively changed the definition of music recordings into "works made for hire," which was really important, because it meant the RIAA labels could hang onto musicians' copyrights for much longer, avoiding termination rights that let musicians reclaim their copyrights. Just a few months later, Glazier left his low-paying Congressional staffer job for a $500,000 job with the RIAA, which I believe he still holds ten years later. Thankfully, people quickly recognized what he had done and Congress had to go back and fix Glazier's sneaky wording. However, it is worth noting that the peak of this chart is right when Glazier inserted his infamous four words.
  • As we discussed last fall, now that musicians do have termination rights, they're lining up to use them and take their copyrights back from the labels. They can start getting the copyrights back in 2013. If you're looking for a date when the bottom totally falls out for the RIAA labels, that may be it. When the rights to their back catalog starts to drop out, this chart looks even worse. The RIAA won't give up easily, of course. The latest stunt they're trying to pull is to "re-record" albums, claiming that it creates a brand new copyright, that gives them another 35 years before termination rights are applicable. That is, of course, ridiculous, but the RIAA will likely try to fight it out in court for many years to extend that 2013 deadline by a few more years. Of course, all that money on legal fees could have gone to innovating, but that's just not the RIAA way.
  • Note that digital music sales is not even close to being a savior. The total is still dropping rapidly.
  • Of course, many have argued that the rise and fall may have a lot more to do with CD replacements of previous formats -- and this chart certainly suggests that could be an explanation. The big jump happened right when CDs became affordable, and people needed to go out and replace their vinyl and cassette (and 8-track!) collections. After a few years of that, it makes sense that the market should drop anyway.
  • Once again, it's important to point out that the chart above is not the entire music industry, but a limited segment of it: the RIAA record labels, mainly comprised of the big four record labels. It doesn't take into account all of the other aspects of the music business -- nearly every single one of which has been growing during this same period. It also doesn't take into account the vast success stories of independent artists and labels doing creative business models and routing around the legacy gatekeepers.

Filed Under: record labels, recording industry, sales
Companies: riaa

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Ruggy, 11 Jun 2010 @ 10:02pm

    The rise and fall of a cartel

    These companies built their success more on domination of the market than on innovation. Their parent companies own the radio stations which advertise the products of their own record labels.

    Today, we depend far less on these corporate radio stations for exposure to new music. We can sample music from independent labels and unsigned or small bands very easily now on the internet.

    The RIAA cartel has lost its iron grip on the retail music market, and this is a very positive development both for musicians and listeners.

    Other factors were certainly significant, such as the heavy-handed legal campaign of the RIAA, which I would nominate as one of the worst Public Relations disasters of all time.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.