The Death of the Diamond Album

“The music industry is in free fall” my pop star brother said to me after the last show of his i saw.  And by a collection of measures this appears true.

You have likely heard of gold and platinum records, representing 500K and 1 million albums sold respectively.  But not many people have heard of diamond albums, which represent 10 platinum records or 10 million albums sold.  And you are not likely to hear much about them, because they are almost extinct.

One of my personal favorite diamond album winners.

One of my personal favorite diamond album winners.

In it’s endless listing of things, Wikipedia lists the 115 or so diamond albums of all times.  It reads a bit like a classic rock who’s who.  The Beatles and Led Zepplin and Garth Brooks does quite well. Madonna, Pink Floyd, Billy Joel and the Backstreet Boys all have a couple each.  But the partial proof of my brothers claim is that there is only one diamond album in the last decade, it is Adele’s 21 and it is dead last on the list.

The last diamond album ever?

The last diamond album ever?

But don’t lose a lot of sleep worrying about the income of rock stars.  Capitalism takes care of it’s own.  In an article called “Digital music sales are in free fall, as Spotify does to iTunes what iTunes did to CDs”   The article notes:

Good news: The switch from downloading to streaming likely won’t devastate industry revenues like the shift from physical albums to digital downloads did. Despite the accelerating rise of streaming over the past few years, annual US music revenues have held steady at around $7 billion since 2009. That year, traditional purchasing made up 95 percent of total US revenue, compared to only 79 percent last year.

Of course, stopping the bleeding is cold comfort to artists and other industry stakeholders faced with low royalty payments from streaming music services. But while it’s true that the revenue generated from one stream is far lower than the revenue generated by a digital download, that may not matter. Many believe the market for paid music subscriptions is set to explode, particularly on a global scale.

What is really going on here is that services like Spotify and Pandora (and even YouTube) are making it easier to get the music you want by either listening to/viewing ads (which pay artists) or paying the service (which also pay artists) than trying to figure out how to steal it from the labyrinth tubes of the interwebs.


And while  it is far from played out which type of service will dominate (with social networking solutions like SoundCloud representing a different type of solution) i tend to agree with the upbeat conclusion of the earlier sited article.

So from this perspective, the death of downloads, despite the fact that their payout is higher per-unit than streaming, may not kill the music industry at all. On the contrary, it may resurrect it for the first time in over a decade.

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

6 responses to “The Death of the Diamond Album”

  1. Aubby says :

    Michael Jackson (at the top), Prince, Stevie Wonder, 2 Pac, Whitney Houston (multiple times), TLC, Bob Marley, Lionel Richie, Mariah Carey…

  2. Raina says :

    It’s just that the actual musicians who make the work that drives the industry are poised to earn no money at all under the new model we’re in. You thought big labels were bad, the tech giants are blowing their selfishness out of the water. Labels at least gave advances and paid for promotion. The tech giants sit back and let everyone else do the work, then share literally pennies with the musicians.

    Pennies, so it’s not right to say the artists are getting paid for those ads. Pay me a penny, you might as well pay me nothing. You don’t earn the right to say you’re paying someone until you’re actually paying them enough, especially considering the millions being pocketed.

    Under the old model, the evil company would have to pay the musician real money (and get approval) in order to get them to appear in an ad promoting the evil product. With the new model, the musician agreed to “share revenue” from “montetizing” their streams. Which means the musician no longer gets to say no when Wal-Mart wants to juxtapose their music with their ads, and it means the musician gets paid 5 cents instead of thousands of dollars. Which means the Wal-Mart investors go to bed in mansions while the artists don’t make enough to eat. By the time they realize they’ve been had, the next group of eager musicians gives their work away into the same parasitic system, which, again, is a million times worse than the previous bad system.

    • paxus says :

      Thanks for your comment. It will be interesting to see if the situation is any better with services like paid subscription fee versions of Spotify, where presumably RIAA is insuring copyright holders get royalties for what is listened to.

      And your comment also begs the question, “What does a better system look like?” Can artist group together to make sure they get fair compensation? Or is the nature of digital media such that they will either be robbed by the end user taking their stuff for free or by the tech giants cutting them the smallest part of the pie possible?

      • Raina says :

        How many of these “end users” are copying music without a tech giant or “advertiser” in the middle making money off the transaction? “End users” are using Google to find the music and getting served ads, they’re using Youtube and getting served ads, they’re using big bittorrent sites and getting served ads, etc. There’s big money flying around and it’s being directed in a top-down way. You’ll get Target ads on torrent sites.

        As long as people keep congregating around the big players’ sites and choosing their services and devices, the big players will continue to hold all the cards. Artists would have to group together in a pretty big way to combat that, and most artists think the new stuff is cool and maybe they’ll be the next big-break lottery winner if they’d just play. So, like with many things, it will take a revolution.

    • paxus says :

      I thought it would have to be the case that Pandora and Spotify would have to pay artists, if they were getting paid for their services. I can see how the ad based model would not necessarily need to pay anyone, since YouTube has sort of broken thru here for doing it all for free.

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