The one thing that is consistent in the entertainment media industry is change. Each decade there seems to be a new technology that modernizes the entertainment industry at large. It is interesting how society shifts to become dependant upon the latest in entertainment media technology. As technology advances, it seems that what people consider to be a necessity also changes. The question is: Is technology shaping society or is society shaping technology?
There have been many advances in the delivery of entertainment media over the years. Each of these advances has made a major impact on how entertainment is enjoyed across the world today. As a musician and songwriter, I am most affected by those music-related advances in technology. Although there have been many to date, I’d like to discuss the top three changes in the delivery of entertainment media.
The vinyl record became popular during the early 1900’s. During this time, radio and television dominated the distribution of entertainment media. When records were introduced, they gave consumers a chance to take music home and hear it when they wanted to. Prior to this revolutionary breakthrough, people had to wait for the radio to play their favorite song. This allowed people to hear it whenever they wanted to.
Records obviously did not replace television and radio because these are very valuable media deliveries to date. On the other had, it did revolutionize it. People were now able to control the music that they wanted to hear. At first, this technology did not take hold very well due to the price. However, in 1948 Columbia Records introduced the LP or long playing record and society gravitated towards this new technology.
Personal convenience and choice were a great selling point for vinyl records. However, with the creation of the “45”, which was a smaller disc that commonly had a single or individual song on it, came a greater since of personal choice. This allowed people to purchase only the songs that they wanted to hear and not a full album. This was a point of discontentment between radio stations and record labels because record labels were worried that people would not purchase records if they could hear them on the radio. Nevertheless, radio play drove sales and continues today to be a large marketing tool for individual music sales.
I think that this was the first lesson in how to use old technology to promote the growth of new technology. Radio and television are still very strong media delivery methods to date. Without them, it is arguable that records would have made the impact that they have made on the entertainment industry.
There are a few steps between the record and the compact disc that deserve a mention here. After the record grew the popularity of the 8-track tape players of the 70’s and the cassette tape of the 80’s dwindled. The 8-track was revolutionary because it was semi portable. There were very common in personal vehicles. They had their issues but produced a relatively good sound. The cassette tape was loved because it was much more compact and therefore more portable. On the other hand, it sacrificed sound quality tremendously from the record and even the 8-track player. In addition, the Sony Walkman made music completely portable. For the first time someone could slip a cassette into their “walkman” and then walk around with their favorite music.
In 1982 the compact disc or CD was born. This compact version of the older record was thought to be the end of musical media distribution. The CD tremendously enhanced sound quality from its predecessor, the cassette. The CD did not immediately replace the cassette. However, in the long run the CD has eliminated the cassette. There are teens today that would look at a cassette like many in my generation would look at an 8-track tape. A study via Billboard by Melinda Newman showed that:
CDs continued their march towards prominence, registering their second straight year of surpassing cassettes in shipments (495.4 million to 339.5 million) and dollar value ($6.511 billion to $2.915 billion.). After rebounding ever so slightly in 1992, cassettes continued their downward spiral. Unit shipments were down 7.3% from 1992, while dollar value decreased 6.4% (Newman, 1994 ¶7-8).
Ironically, CDs replaced cassettes over time but did not eliminate the aforementioned records. “As CD sales continue to decline and MP3s are traded without thought, the left-for-dead LP is staging a comeback” (Browne, 2008 ¶2). Some credit this to a certain quality of sound. Others would speak to the nostalgic feeling of placing the needle to the wax. Either way, records appear to be here to stay.
This technology came with several marketing opportunities. The CD marketed a higher quality but still portable medium for music lovers. It also made way for the media book insert that has become so popular. This booklet allowed artist to share themselves, their lyrics, and other content that was not available prior to this technology. Also, the development of the compact disc gave us storage technology like CDR and CDRW. This technology has largely kept the CD technology alive.
The marketing challenge with this new technology was getting people to repurchase their favorite albums in the new format. The push was for CDs to be the final music technology so makers needed people to feel the need to repurchase favorite albums from their favorite artist. In the long run, this challenge turned out not to be too big of a hindrance to sales.
The lesson that can be learned by this development in technology is that people make concessions for convenience. The cassette became popular despite the clear reduction in sound quality. The popularity of the CD brought sound quality back to entertainment media. However, although the CD was designed to be more compact than the vinyl record, it did not beat the compact nature of the cassette.
Digital Music Players
The digital movement is one that has come with several advantages. Digital media players provided a convenience that no other technology has been able to provide. Most were designed to be pocket sized and still maintain a “good” sound quality. They allowed consumers to list and play only the music that they wanted to listen to. Although the CDR technology allowed people to create their own CDs, digital media players made it much more convenient.
Digital media players have not completely replaced CDs but the verdict is still out. CD sales are still dropping and mp3’s are being purchased, downloaded and traded at an alarming rate (Browne, 2008). Some people are still willing to purchase CDs and event records. There are a host of reasons for this but nostalgia and collectivity are among the greatest.
The market is saturated with digital media playing devices; however, Apple’s iPod is arguably the leader. This has opened the door for a host of marketing opportunities that Apple has capitalized upon. Everything from various styles and colors to the ever-popular application, digital media is cornering marketing efforts in the sale of music.
The greatest challenge that has come with the development of this technology is copyright regulation. It took several years to regulate the free downloading of digital media and it is still not completely under control today. Nevertheless, Apple has created controls in there iTunes files. iTunes has become the most popular place to organize and play digital media. However, they now have restrictions on what file types iPods will play and moreover, very few media players are able to play iTunes files (Newman, 1994). The ultimate lesson in this technology change is that there is no life-long technology. CDs were thought to be the end of technological advances in music and we now know that that is furthest from the truth.
So, is technology shaping society or is society shaping technology? There is a fine line that makes this question difficult to answer. Nevertheless, the one certain thing is they are both changing rapidly. Marketing strategies have to keep up with the rapidly evolving technology. Regardless of which is changing first, technology is leading toward mobile-driven entertainment consumption. Marketing strategies will have to do the same. We may not know exactly what will happen in the next few years but we do know that we will experience change.
Browne, D. (2008). Vinyl Returns in the Age of MP3. Rolling Stone, (1054), 22. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Levine, R. (2006). Unlocking the iPod. Fortune, 154(9), 73-77. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Micallef, K. (2004). Vinyl LPs: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Downbeat, 71(11), 84. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Newman, M. (1994). CDs push music sales past $10 bil mark. Billboard, 106(10), 6. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.