While marketing and economics classes both tell us that lack of choice is a very bad thing for consumers, it is also true that too much choice can also be bad. Not only does the presence of too many products from one marketer often end in products "cannibalizing" one another, but some research shows that having too many choices increases the level of cognitive dissonance that consumers experience, resulting in increased levels of post-purchase dissatisfaction. In short, we always end up wondering about our opportunity costs, or what we are missing out on, especially if the choices were high involvement in nature. This is FOMO in action.
When it comes to music, many people now agree that there is simply too much content. There is no way for an average person to sift through the almost 250,000 songs released in 2016 alone, a sure sign of over-saturation. And even with artists being paid royalties every time a song is played, rather than the old model of being paid when a song was purchased, it is becoming increasingly difficult for those not named Beyonce to make any money.
After peaking in 1999 and being largely left for dead, the recorded-music industry is very healthy. Last year revenues increased 17% to almost $9 billion in the U.S. driven largely by the popularity of service providers like Spotify. But with over 150,000 multi-track albums getting at least one sale last year, the money is largely concentrating into a very few hands. And so it's not really all that different from the producer-controlled model of yesteryear, and a lot like the book publishing industry these days where it is also very hard to break through the clutter of what's available online.
But the problem is that it is the consumers who are complaining that they are becoming overwhelmed by the array of choices. Music is being released more often but in smaller quantities these days rather than in the larger spurts that the old album/concert promotion tour model necessitated. Indeed some of the once-obscure acts of today would never have been discovered if it were not for the freedom of distribution that the Internet provides; but an far larger number of higher quality artists probably remain lost in obscurity among the tens of thousands of competitors. And it seems that the big producer-supported artists, such as those you see at the Grammy's, are still enjoying the majority of the spoils.
Indeed it also seems that the biggest threat to the recorded music industry might be a lack of compensation for the efforts of its content providers. Could it be possible that the presence of too many competitors today has made it as difficult for artists to make a living as it was when only a few production companies controlled all of the content? Is the "little guy" really able to "make it big" due to the direct access to consumers afforded by the Internet? Is the industry still one that is producer-dominated? These are fair questions for a product category consumed by members of a species (humans) that, even in an age of enhanced variety-seeking behavior and especially when it comes to music, tend to lean in favor of genre-specific preferences, familiarity, and "band" loyalty.
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