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CD sales down 20%: the monopoly is faltering

The Wall Street Journal reports that CD sales are down 20% this year compared to a year ago. The major record labels have entered the death spiral that we’ve been talking about for the past couple years– CD sales decline, retailers reduce space for CDs or go out of business, music fans have even less places to find CDs. With less sales outlets, CD sales decline some more, and so on.

iTunes is not coming anywhere close to making up for these losses. Even for Apple, the music store is mostly a promotional effort.

And even mainstream tech blogs like TechCrunch are excited to see the industry de-centralize. They titled their report on the CD sale decline “Good News! CD Music Sales Down 20% from 2006“. Four years ago, that would have been a shocking thing to say. But I guess when companies decide that their only salvation includes making everyone hate them, you come to expect this kind of thing.

Does this mean Downhill Battle’s mission to end the major label monopoly is almost complete? Let’s take it back to a blog post here from November 2003, just three months after Downhill Battle started:

“Moving forward doesn’t mean helping the corporate music industry stay alive, it means putting the majors out of their misery as soon as possible. If the major labels continue their downward plunge, in just a year or two we’ll reach a point when they can’t afford to maintain their exclusive control of radio and distribution. The result will be an explosion of diversity in mainstream music as the marketplace finally opens up to independent music. It’s within reach and it’s worth fighting for.”

Just in the past year, we’ve seen independent music online continue to explode in popularity (emusic is #2 for online services), Elliot Spitzer has forced the major labels and radio stations to end payola and play independent music, and distribution is more open than ever. We’re getting close! Would any of this have been possible if the major corporate labels were still powerful enough to buy off and silence their critics? Never.

Last week I talked to a musician whose band is signed to a major label. They are so far in ‘debt’ to their label that they never see a cent from CD sales. When the label went through a bunch of layoffs recently, he was psyched– the people that control their recording contract have been wasteful, manipulative, controlling, and frankly idiotic. The only successful marketing the band has had in the past year has been done entirely by the band members. With the layoffs there’s less corporate red tape to get in their way. We’re getting close!

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