Thursday, November 4, 2010

Maybe the sky falling is a good thing?

Just some random speculation on my part here, but think about it:

I believe that a gutting of the recording industry may be a good thing for all of us.  Of course, the 'industry' is never going to disappear.  People love music, and are willing to pay for it.  There will always be ways for musicians to make a buck.

But the whole 'recording industry' as a big corporate run deal could disappear within our lifetime.  And if it does, I say hurray! 

Think about it.  We're living in a world where anything that gets recorded is soon available for free as a download/torrent.  And while there are still people out there willing to buy CDs and DVDs of their favorite bands (and even not so favorite ones), they're doing it a lot less than they used to. 

And as this happens, the 'industry' is turning more and more to crap that will make them a quick buck.

It seems like a recipe for disaster.  As soon as the teeny-boppers stop buying Jonas Brothers albums and download them instead, there goes most of the big money left to be made from CD sales.

And where will that leave us? 

Big name groups will mostly rely on concert tours and TV/streaming internet performances to make money.

Small name groups will likely rely on playing local venues, and again internet self promotion.

Mass market produced bands (including just about every pop group here in Korea) will no longer be marketable.  If the group can't actually sing or play their instruments well, they just look good on TV or have that ear-worm inducing crappy sound indiscriminate kids love, would they really survive in a more cutthroat market where musicians are competing for attention as live audiences?  I don't think so.

We, the music loving populace, would be left with a world where talent once again matters, and musicians who have that talent and dedication would make a living (maybe not rock stars, but they'd be making a living) while the posers and wannabes would be left behind.

Or maybe I'm dreaming.  Maybe the populace is stupid enough, and has poor enough taste, that the crap would remain. 

Actually, unfortunately, that's likely the case.

But it also means that the RPG industry ain't going anywhere anytime soon, either.  We're in the age where anyone can whip up an RPG, and either give it away free on the internet, sell it as a download, or use a POD service to sell actual copies.  Yeah, no one doing that is likely to earn a ton of money, or meet the sales numbers of a big publisher, but as long as there are folks out there with some passion putting out their own RPGs and RPG modules/supplements, there's going to be people making some money off of all of this.

Maybe not a gold mine, but a small corner store isn't unthinkable.


  1. This has been my thinking ever since the whole MP3 thing kicked in. Being a musician I know the royal screwing you take when you 'sign' with a big label.

    10 cents. The average pay out on a cd to an artist is 10 cents a unit. Out of that you pay for EVERYTHING. You pay for the studio time. You pay for the crew and engineer. Back when tape was still used for recording you had to pay for the damn blank tape AND YOU DON'T EVEN OWN IT!

    When it comes to things 'we' can make-music, movies, games of all kind, any art or entertainment - I am so glad we are nearly at the end of these industries. Then they can focus on making ball bearings and dish washers and leave creativity to the creative world.

    Right now the bad is bad, but the good is reeeeaaly good :) The OSR is recent proof of that.

  2. I’m not sure if you are using “CD” as a shortcut for “paying”, but it is important to keep in mind that “download” doesn’t mean “free”. I buy very few CDs anymore, but I pay for the music I download.

    In any case, the recording industry will survive, though specific labels may not. It is just undergoing some major changes. And, yeah, they’re mostly good changes.

  3. The record industry collapsed for the same two reasons the DVD industry is about to collapse and for the same reason the dead-tree book industry only has one more generation left before it becomes antique:

    [1] Digital is cheaper, and so everything that can be digitized will be.

    [2] The social aspect of the activity of watching, listening, and reading is not hampered by switching from analog to digital. That is, even if I'm on a room full of people as I'm listening to a CD, I don't require anyone's input as I listen. Ditto watching movies. Ditto reading books.

    But games are different. Board games are different, I should say. The wild popularity of MMORPGs are proof of how successful games can be in the digital arena. But what Steve Jackson Games figured out with its "Munchkin" brand is what other publishers are figuring out now: There is a HUGE market for people who want to do things together at a table and not separated by computer screens.

    Go to your nearest Barnes & Noble. See anything different? You'll see board games. Lots and lots of board games. None of them were there last year at this time.

    Everything else can be digitized, (even board games), but there's a market for close, personal human-to-human meatspace interaction that no amount of live-streaming can kill. Yet. (The technology will get there pretty soon, though.)

    That's why "box sets" have blossomed right now. The RPG box-set market is a symptom, not a cause, of a much wider phenomenon: the need for a market to fill a vacuum as physical product lines - CDs, DVDs, books - shrink. That's why RPGs aren't in trouble as long as they put more stuff in big, colorful boxes and stop printing ridiculously expensive and thick books that fewer and fewer people are willing to buy. Whatever the merits of his own game, Raggi saw the trend and acted on it. If you have publishing aspirations, box sets is the way to go right now.

    I work at a Barnes & Noble. We're gonna sell so many damn boxed games this year that we're going to eat our profits just in the thick, heavy bags we're already having to buy to put them in.

    So, here are the equations to remember when packaging games:

    Box = familiar, comfortable, group, family, laughing.

    Book = abstract, loner, possible serial killer, Comic Book Guy from Simpsons.

    Or something like that.

  4. I remember the look on my girlfriend's face when I was talking about Justin Beiber.

    Do you remember hearing about him before he was big? Do you think he toured as a small-name band before he made a hit single? What do you think he was doing three years ago?

    If the world gets rid of "superstars" whose rise is engineered by record companies, and whose popularity is created out of nowhere by the media business, it can't happen too soon.

  5. I don't share your optimism about a return to taste in the mass market.

    That's what people are paying for. It's getting worse, not better.

  6. Thanks for the input, guys. My little just before bed, stream-of-consciousness rant here sure seemed to resonate. I figured I'd wake up and re-read it as just some random rambling. :D

    It's been 13 years since I worked in retail (book and electronics stores), so my finger is NOT on the pulse of American retail. But just looking at and listening to some of the crap K-Pop produces, and seeing the sad state of a CD store the other day brought this on.

    Well, that plus certain prominent bloggers talking about an RPG industry collapse or the viability of RPGs as an entertainment 'technology.'

  7. Meh, what YOU like consider good music, rpg's, books, etc is a matter of opinion. And an opinion is just like an asshole, everyone's got one.

    Make mine 4E forever! It's SOOOO balanced!!!!


  8. Thanks yet again, for stating the obvious, there, Woodstock. Appreciate it.

  9. I haven't found much at all of value to me in the RPG Industry (big companies like WotC, etc.) for a long time now, and I've looked. It just doesn't resonate, and the products being offered have almost zero usage potential to me. Almost like they are being written by people who don't even know what RPG players *do* or would want to buy.

    Meanwhile the online RPG Hobby (small press included) has produced a lot of things that actually have value to me, and will be used in my games. And while many are free (blogs, etc.) I have also paid for things, even downloads, that were useful or interesting.

    I think once the Industry stops wasting their efforts and catches up to the needs of the Hobby again, they might have something. Until then, as far as I'm concerned, the Industry collapsed a long time ago, anyhow.