What About Used? A Thought on Music Sales

The fact that recorded music sales are down for the 4th year running is all over the news again, along with the music industry’s accusation that it’s primarily due to downloading mp3s.

My own recorded music consumption goes up and down, but I’d say that for the last 5 years or so it’s been mostly stable, even through Napster, Kazaa and the like. It’s very true that I do buy things I’ve downloaded because I ended up really liking it, which has made me a little more satisfied with my purchases.

But, I also buy a lot of used music. Lately, a lot of my used music is on vinyl LP, which isn’t a huge part of the mainstream music business these days. But I also buy used CDs. In fact, I’d say that at least half of my recorded music purchases are used.

It makes me wonder if these used music sales are counted at all, or if used music flies under the RIAA’s radar.

My guess is that the RIAA doesn’t count used music at all. Especially since they tried to squash used CD sales in the mid-90s by taking away all sorts of promotional money and other incentives from retailers that sold both new and used CDs.

Used CDs are often the best way to go on the most popular CDs and Billboard top albums — if nothing else, they’re in large supply and plenty of people pick them up for one hit song and then sell ’em.

Now, if you ask the RIAA, I bet they’d say buying and selling used CDs is tantamount to stealing, since they don’t make a dime on it. But it’s not — no more so than buying and selling used books or cars.

So, how much of the supposed decline in new music sales is due to people buying cheaper used music rather than downloads? The supply of used CDs only grows every year, making it so the smart shopper probably doesn’t have to pay full new price on any major-label CD with any chart presence within the last 20 years.

But what’s the RIAA’s solution? Raise the price on downloaded music! Yeah, that’ll fix it.

A final question — I wonder how many kids buy new CDs, then copy them or rip them, then hock ’em at the used CD store?