Magazine article Gramophone

Is the Audio Market Changing? or Just Diversifying? Too Many Commentators Say the Way We Listen Has Been Altered Forever but the Truth Is That We Just Have More Choice of How and When We Enjoy Music

Magazine article Gramophone

Is the Audio Market Changing? or Just Diversifying? Too Many Commentators Say the Way We Listen Has Been Altered Forever but the Truth Is That We Just Have More Choice of How and When We Enjoy Music

Article excerpt

Now we're well into a new year, perhaps the hubbub of retrospection, introspection and haruspicy will die down a bit. Recent months have seen commentators looking back at how the audio industry is on its last legs, asking 'What can be done to save this hobby of ours and why don't youngsters get it?', and predicting a future in which CDs, downloads and all will finally be swept away.

The sum-up? To quote the great John Laurie's character in Dad's Army (now reappearing refreshed on the big screen played by Bill Paterson), 'We're all doomed!'. Apparently what are referred to as 'kids today' are no longer interested in music, don't listen to it and even if they do don't really care what's used to play it. Give them a free pirate mp3 file of the latest overhyped pop track, bung it on their phone, let them play it through tinny ear-buds and they're good, thanks.

Meanwhile hi-fi is all about middle-aged (or older) white-haired (if haired at all) men obsessing over anachronistic equipment at hi-fi shows held in hotels where, even if the equipment ever sounded any good, it's undersold by cynical, uninterested sales people in stripped-out bedrooms, giving it no chance to show what it can do. No wonder it's dying off almost as fast as those 'audiophiles': all those examining the entrails of audio--in the form of those overpriced 'snake oil' cables and the like--can see is the end of the industry as we know it.

Even the so-called vinyl revival is, apparently, illusory. The theory is that the majority of those shiny new record players and substantially priced LP re-releases of classic recordings are being bought by the ubiquitous 'hipsters', who never actually play the music but rather collect it as domestic set-dressing, much as they might purchase antique cameras or esoteric coffee-making paraphernalia.

Or so we're told. Trouble is, down here at the hi-fi coalface, it doesn't quite seem like that, and things are rather less binary than the absolutist commentators may have us think. Yes, there has been a rise in the popularity of streaming services but, as recent coverage has shown, it's not been so significant a seachange as to prove profitable for streaming operators or those whose music they supply online.

And is there still a taste for buying music? One needs only ask the British singer Adele, who decided to withhold her latest work from Spotify when it was released back in November and saw it become the fastest-selling British album of all time, with 800,000 copies bought in the UK in the first week of availability, of which over 250,000 were downloads--or to put it another way, of which over half a million were physical copies--before clocking up a million sales within 10 days of release. …

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