Sales for Musical Artists Plunge. Next Victim: Authors

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

“Over the last 12 years” NPR’s David Lowery recently wrote, “I’ve watched revenue flowing to artists collapse. Recorded music revenue is down 64% since 1999. Per capita spending on music is 47% lower than it was in 1973!! The number of professional musicians has fallen 25% since 2000. Of the 75,000 albums released in 2010 only 2,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. Only 1,000 sold more than 10,000 copies.” Ten thousand copies, Lowery explains, is break-even for independent recording artists.

Why are we mentioning this in a column devoted to the book industry? Because if you substitute “authors” for “recording artists” and “books” for “albums”, you would realize at once, as I did, that in one significant area the two professions are interchangeable.

The significant area is piracy. Lowery attributes the plummet in sales directly to illegal downloading.

His article, published in The Trichordist, a website for “Artists for an Ethical Internet,” was in the form of an open letter to a young intern at National Public Radio named Emily who had acknowledged that “while she had 11,000 songs in her music library, “she’s only paid for 15 CDs in her life.”

Because Emily is a member of a vast majority who not only behave the same way but justify their behavior the same way, Lowery felt it incumbent to help her see that “she has been badly misinformed by the Free Culture movement.” The challenge is tantamount to fighting a forest fire with a garden hose, and the reason is that it’s all about a mindset so completely and universally embedded in the consciences of young people that it’s become a rule to live by rather than an ethical value about which there is choice to embrace or resist.

Obviously that same mindset obtains with e-books. Among the reasons that the Emily generation use to justify their freeloading are:

*Compensating musicians is not a problem – that is up to governments and large corporations to solve.

*It’s OK not to pay for music because record companies rip off artists and do not pay artists anything.

*We don’t take these tracks from a file-sharing site.

*Artists can make money on the road (or its variant “Artists are rich”)

“I also deeply empathize with your generation,” Lowery writes. “You have grown up in a time when technological and commercial interests are attempting to change our principles and morality. Rather than using our morality and principles to guide us through technological change, there are those asking us to change our morality and principles to fit the technological change–if a machine can do something, it ought to be done.

“I also find this all this sort of sad. Many in your generation are willing to pay a little extra to buy ‘fair trade’ coffee that insures the workers that harvested the coffee were paid fairly. Many in your generation will pay a little more to buy clothing and shoes from manufacturers that certify they don’t use sweatshops. Many in your generation pressured Apple to examine working conditions at Foxconn in China. Your generation is largely responsible for the recent cultural changes that has given more equality to same sex couples. On nearly every count your generation is much more ethical and fair than my generation.

“Except for one thing. Artist rights.”

Read: Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered.

Richard Curtis


2 thoughts on “Sales for Musical Artists Plunge. Next Victim: Authors

  1. Bradley Robb

    You have a gross factual error in your first sentence, from which you never recover. David Lowery has no affiliation with NPR, and instead is a musician with a history of spreading FUD.

    1. Richard CurtisRichard Curtis Post author

      @Bradley Robb

      Bradley is correct and I misattributed David Lowery’s background, for which I apologize to him and my readers. For a proper attribution readers may click on

      I can’t vouch for the veracity of anything Lowery may or may not have said but I do hope readers will understand the larger point of this posting, which is that artists, writers, and legitimate copyright owners are being financially hurt by unauthorized downloading of their work. Lowery’s remarks to “Emily” concern a generation of content users that is enabling copyright infringement, and though he was talking about music, the same issues apply to authors.



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