The Recording: It’s Been Losing Its Value Since 1962

The most marked declines in recording values have occurred over the past decade or so.

In fact, the average cost of a song – averaged across all platforms and formats – is now hovering just above $0. But widen the timeframe to five decades (or so), and you’ll see an ongoing, steady devaluation at work.

Here’s one look at the interplay between format (ie, vinyl, tape, CD, download whatever) and the accompanying price drop on the song itself.  It was compiled by Freemake, a company focused on free music software – and convinced the right price for recordings is now free.

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Others have been chiming in on this topic, including a great beneficiary of the marked-up album and single: ‘Tommy Boy’ Silverman.  As the industry has swung from single to album and back to single, Silverman noticed something funny: the actual price of an album – adjusted for inflation – was far more expensive in the early 60s.  And, it contained far less music (see above).

 “The first Beatles album in America came out in 1964 at $4.98 list,” Silverman calculated. “In today’s dollars that would be $35 for a 28 minute, monophonic 8-song album.”

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The question is whether it makes sense for artists and labels to approach recordings as a zero-cost, loss leader.  That’s certainly not the game the majors are playing, especially when it involves multi-million-dollar advances from companies like Spotify, Apple, and others.  And there are still billions being made from CDs and paid downloads, depending on the artist and demographic involved.

But Freemake – like many others – see a limited market for paid music ahead.  “Of course, there will always remain collectors willing to pay a pretty penny for limited edition records,” the group asserts,  “But ordinary listeners have already made their choice by pressing ‘stop’ on paid music playback.”

14 Responses

  1. QSDC

    The music industry and the tech world needs to stay focused on making streaming, free or subsized, work economically. It is the ONLY solution that makes sense both musically and technologically. If you are still expecting to sell digital albums and singles a la carte in the long-term future, keep dreaming. Sure, some will still buy physical, but they will be the hard-core minority.

  2. Erik P

    Of course it’s losing it’s value…the industry (and technology) keeps cheapening the experience for music fans.

  3. Central Scrutinizer

    Interesting that there was no Federal copyright protection for sound recordings prior to 1972.

    Is there a correlation or was the old recording industry just doomed by digital technology no matter what.

  4. Treblephone

    Interestingly, the copy of ‘ITB’ you’ve shown the cover of is a counterfeit! (Note ‘tear’ in the picture in the upper right hand corner, which is common to the bootlegged versions that were in bargain bins for years.)

    • MDA

      No, the tear was always on radio station promotional copies of lums, not bootlegs. Yes they may end up in bargin bins but they were not to be resold, thus the physical slit in the sleeve. It’s what the record companies sent to radio stations.

  5. Jeff Robinson

    I’ve been saying this for the past 10 years, where’s the inflation and cost of living value in recorded music? RCA released the first reel-to-reel full-length recordings back in the 1950’s for $12.98, why are full-length albums $9.90 on iTunes?

    We should blame the retail platforms for this.

    • Robbie Fields

      We should blame the retail platforms for this.

      I think if you were to find yourself in the marketing trenches these days, you’d

      find incredible lack of pricing power other than for the Adele du jour.

      The only thing I’d blame the retail platforms (iTunes and Amazon) for is not

      allowing labels to charge less.

      We’re finding the $ .69 / $3.99 pricing points work best for us.

      If we go to $5.99, our U.S. album sales drop 95%. Outside the US

      we are now picking up sales at the $2.99 price point. $ 1.99 would be better.

      But those retail platforms you speak of are still behind the curve.

      $ .29 / $ 0.99 is ideal (and only theoretically possible ex USA due to mechanical

      licensing concerns).

      • Jeff Robinson

        Hemmm, the Musician/Engineer Survey of 2009 revealed some different numbers. Most folks expect full-length albums to be in the $5 to $15 range. Surprising how many expect it to be $10 to $15. Labels are too desperate to ‘give it away’. Carls Jr. has an amazing $6 burger. Wendy’s went with a triple and sold more doubles as a result. An artist ought to release a disc with cost of living built in. From 1950 numbers, the full-length disc would cost around $40. Sounds reasonable to me. Do you really want GOOD music?

        A link to the survey:

  6. Robbie Fields

    In the 1960’s there was no competition from videos or video/pc games. And only when those items became deep catalog in the 1990’s and started selling under consecutively lowered price points, i.e, $19.99, then $9.99 and now $4.99 or lower did recorded music appear horribly mispriced.

    It’s not too hard to find Star Trek episodes at a 99 cent price point. If you’re having to choose, what’s your choice? Yes, I know, FREE, as in youtube.

    The ironic thing is that most successful indie labels went bust by the end of the 1960’s. I think it was the inevitable crippling overhead in increased payroll that did in any growing label without financial acumen. Computerization from the 1980’s onwards both sowed the seeds of recorded music’s demise and allowed companies to scale up and scale down operations, as need be

  7. @charley_sddd

    Oh le beau schéma. Le prix d’un titre de 1962… à aujourd’hui.

  8. @customchannels

    In music listened to more, and now worth less?

  9. Mike Hunt

    There was this little thing called Minimum Advertised Price, which the court disallowed. While MAP rules had sometimes been circumvented by creative retail chargebacks, the policy was generally effective; the discontinuation of MAP was a key game-changer.

  10. Jeffrey Barkin

    A whole generation has grown up with the expectation that music should be FREE.

    File sharing and uploading recording artists’ work to strangers has become an acceptable condoned practice and not considered theft or wrong. Today there is little respect for an artist’s work.

    It also seems that to many today the quality of the audio file is not as important as convenience. Consumers today seem content with 35-45% resolution – this would never have been tolerated by audio collectors in the 60s-90s; in fact, the term “audiofile’ today seems to be becoming obsolete (deleted).

    I believe the REAL sadness of this expectation for FREE MUSIC will be its affect on the actual artists coming up the ranks… there is no real future for them. If we do not reward and encourage the talent to keep focused, they will not be able to remain as committed and able to develop.

    The creative process and reaching others through the arts needs and demands financial encouragement. We can’t expect quality performers to work for next to nothing or for just the acknowledgement that their song has been shared (stolen) the most. Imagine how many of today’s stars would not be here if they did not have the financial support they’ve received. Do you want reality TV stars selected by polls dominating our airwaves doing covers?

    It takes marketing, touring and creating a profile to break and support talent… and we can’t expect this free ride to continue if we expect to hear quality music in our future. Artists deserve to be rewarded and paid for their work; and music that touches and moves us is PRICELESS, and deserve RESPECT.