Are Boomers Keeping The Music Industry Alive?

The recorded-music market is not so much dying as greying according to this great article in The Economist. In 2002 people aged 12 to 19 accounted for 16.4% of all spending on albums in Britain, according to TNS Worldpanel. That was almost double the share of people aged 60 or over (8.8%). The two groups have now switched positions. By 2008 teenagers accounted for just 12% of spending on albums, whether digital or physical. By contrast, the older fans’ share had gone up to 13.8%. The over-60s do not just spend more on music albums than teenagers. They spend more on pop-music albums.

The consequences can be seen in the pop charts. America’s bestselling album since 2000 is “1”, a collection of Beatles hits from the 1960s. At one point last year four of the top ten albums in Britain were Beatles recordings and the number-one album was a collection of songs by Vera Lynn, who was then 92 years old. The bestselling album worldwide last year was “I Dreamed a Dream” by Susan Boyle, a middle-aged Scot. Universal Music’s bestselling album in Japan in the first half of this year was “Vocalist 4” by Hideaki Tokunaga, Japan’s answer to Harry Connick Jr. If most of your fans are middle-aged, CD sales are holding up well.


The ageing of the recorded-music market has been accelerated by trends in retailing. As independent record shops and specialist media stores like Zavvi (formerly Virgin) have closed, supermarkets have emerged as leading outlets for music. Britain’s four big supermarkets—Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons—accounted for 24% of all music sales in the country last year. By comparison, had 13% of the market and iTunes only 11%.

Supermarkets are patronised disproportionately by the middle-aged and the old (see chart 3). People aged 40 and over account for 62% of spending on music in Tesco, according to Kantar, a research firm. Partly because of their clientele, partly because supermarkets are mass-market enterprises, they tend to stock mainstream fare. “People who are shopping for Midlake or The National won’t find them in a supermarket,” says Geoff Taylor of the BPI, referring to two American indie bands. “But I bet Kylie Minogue’s album is there.”

The growing clout of middle-aged and old listeners extends beyond recorded music. “Many of the acts selling out stadiums are old,” says Rob Hallett, the president of international touring at AEG Live. The top three American touring acts last year were U2 (average age: 49), Bruce Springsteen (61) and a double bill of Billy Joel (61) and Elton John (63). And that raises a worrying question: what happens when their knees give out?

JPEGSpringsteen’s still the boss

Many of the acts that now draw huge crowds emerged in an era of multi-album record contracts, lavish marketing and radio payola. They built their brands gradually, overcoming the occasional lousy album. They “invaded” other countries when they felt the time was right. As a result, they have legions of fans who are prepared to stump up for concert tickets. Because their songs appeal to several generations of listeners, they are attractive to advertisers and TV programme-makers. The young dreamers in shows like “The X-Factor” commonly perform songs that are more than a quarter of a century old.

Older people, have money and have the memories to invest it on. How will the music industry change to accomodate its ageing customers? Make CD easier to remove the cellophane wrap would be a nice start!

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