A few days ago, Jon Pareles wrote a New York Times article entitled “Songs From the Heart of a Marketing Plan“, describing the increased licensing of new music for commercials, video games and soundtracks.
Selling recordings to consumers as inexpensive artworks to be appreciated for their own sake is a much-diminished enterprise now that free copies multiply across the Web.
While people still love music enough to track it down, collect it, argue over it and judge their Facebook friends by it, many see no reason to pay for it. The emerging practical solution is to let music sell something else: a concert, a T-shirt, Web-site pop-up ads or a brand.
Licensing music to marketers is hardly new, but there is an urgent pressure from the decline of CD sales and the industry’s inability to make up the difference in digital music sales. The music industry isn’t about to go down without a fight, and licensing music to marketers is immune to digital piracy.
Rather, it ties the fate of the music industry, at least in part, to that of the advertising industry. While no industry is recession-proof, advertising seems better placed than most.
But consider the irony. Historically, people either have bought music or have listened to it for free on ad-supported media like radio. Is the future one where music is distributed for free and embedded in the very ads that historically subsidized its distribution?
Moreover, if this change is successful, will we see it extend to other digital media–like movies, books, or even news? Could the entire world of publication revolve around advertising?
I hope this is just a paranoid fantasy. It wasn’t that long ago that we were proclaiming “content is king”. Perhaps Andrew Odlyzko was right to challenge this assertion in his article “Content is not king“–though he argued the primacy of communication over content. I just hope that communication does not devolve to advertising.