Conventional wisdom is that the economy is in a recession and in as such, no industry (except maybe the alcohol industry) will be immune to its effects. Money will be tight because of the credit crunch, higher unemployment and continuing inflation. The entertainment industry was already under duress from the disruption of migrating content to digital and then developing a monetization strategy in the digital space. However, it is entirely possible that the downturn will present unique opportunities for the struggling music world to rebound and perhaps even weather the economic storm better than most others.
The Entertainment Need
Anytime budgets get time, expenses get trimmed and the first thing to go is the discretionary spending. It is not just trimming away those unnecessary splurges, it includes belt tightening across the entire entertainment board. Typically, the bulk of the entertainment spending can be broken down into a few key purchases and a routine of regular spending. Eliminating a few cable channels, cutting back on magazine subscriptions and pairing down the cell phone bill allow the entertainment to remain intact, albeit at a smaller scale while trimming the overall recurring expenses. However, one cannot easily take only a half a trip to Disney Land or purchase only part of the HDTV they were dreaming about and often times those investments are completely eliminated. With their elimination in turn is the loss of the escape they typically provide, thus illuminating the financial problems further.
The rationale is not always intentionally to replace the vacation to Disney Land with a trip to the movies or HDTV with a CD but oftentimes that is exactly the way it works out. When families begin eliminating those big ticket items they have to rely even more on the little things to keep sane. This, in turn, actually can help those industries because people turn to them as less costly alternatives to their normal routine. Be it a way to satiate the restless youth or an impulse to get over a bad day paying bills, they serve a greater purpose to the consumer in a tighter market.
Of course, with music, there is always the question of paid versus free. However, the argument becomes less intrusive when one considers a couple of other factors.
The Trust Factor
With the tight budget the first response by many is why pay for music when it is readily available for free. Free comes with complications though. Is the file what it says it is, or is it a virus? Is it just the file or is it bundled with malware or spyware? Is the site secure or is there potentially phishing or other scams abound? With the lack of funds available to against against these threats or cleans them upon infection or replace an inopperable drive consumers may become more warry of using a free service they are unfamiliar with.
Is the song the whole song or only part of it? Is it even the song I’m looking for or is it mislabled? Is the file type compatable with my player? The non-tech savvy may have a difficult time determining the best course of action among the plethora of free resources out there and determine what it is that they need to download in the first place.
Known retaliers provide a safty net for consumers to fall into and the foundation of trust retailers provide may be enough to entice consumers to pay for what they might otherwise take the chance on downloading for free. Given the option of loosing the use of their computer, it only makes sense to not take that chance when money is tight.
The Convenience Factor
Free may in theory save money, however, it can take more time. In a tight economy, extra time may not be a luxury if consumers have to work two jobs to make ends meet or shift the resource to spending their online time to find a job in the first place. For the uninitiated the free option may take considerable more time to navigate and the result may not be as satisfying.
There’s something to be said for the quick fix of a iTunes search or the recommendation engine of Amazon to tell you what is interesting next or relying on Pandora to point you in the right direction of what to listen to next. P2P torrents don’t offer those same kind of personalization and require a lot more effort to find what you’re looking for assuming you knew what it was in the first place.
Non-consumers of content before may not have consumed because of a lack of need or interest. The change in economic structure may create a need to purchase entertainment they otherwise would not have. Free is not considered an option because they may not be as tech-savvy or have the background in the free communities to feel comfortable or even interested in that route. Established retailers and music resources may be enough for music to weather the storm, be it through the stabilization of physical sales or the continued increases in paid-download or future streaming numbers.