Music Industry

Will Taylor Swift’s 1989 be the Last Platinum Album We Ever See?

The numbers aren’t in yet and the full story won’t be released until late tomorrow or early Wednesday, but it looks like Taylor Swift’s new album, 1989, is a monster. Industry estimates say that it may have sold as many as 1.3 million copies in its first week in the US alone. If that’s the case–and I’ll bet it is–this would make 1989 the only album released this year to break the 1 million sales mark.

That’s right: 2014 has delivered exactly one–that’s one–platinum album.

If you ever needed proof that the music industry is shifting away from physical product and digital purchases, this is it. It’s also indicative of how the public is no longer in the thrall of buying albums in favour of a la carte songs.

Let’s start with an interview Netscape creator Marc Andreseen gave to New Yorker magazine.  When the conversation turned to the music industry, the conversation went like this:

With Spotify…we as consumers have more choice than we’ve ever had, but the producers are feeling a squeeze. Part of what worries me about your vision of the future is that it’s treating people as if they’re only consumers and not producers.

No, no, no, no, no. It’s treating people as consumers and producers. The same technology makes people better producers. Are you a better producer today than you would have been without all these new technologies?

Yes, but am I compensated properly if I’m a musician whose song gets a million hits and he gets a check for $6?

That’s when we get down into the sticky situation, which is, is our work actually worth what we think it is?

And what’s the answer?

The answer is, it depends. You look at most of the successful authors now, and they’re doing paid speaking. For musicians, the live-touring business grew four times in the last 15 years. So as digital music has taken reproduction down, as the reproduced version has become abundant, the live experience has become scarce. So touring revenues are way up.

But that’s just the superstar model.

No, even for touring bands, even for regular bands. Look at half the heavy-metal bands21 from, like, the 1980s that in the old days could sell 300,000 albums, they’re touring all over the world and the money’s pouring in. And even the bands that fall completely on hard times, they now go and play at people’s birthday parties, or they play launch events for tech companies. People don’t want to listen to Hootie and the Blowfish anymore, but it turns out it’s pretty cool to have them at a birthday party. And they get paid $25,000.

So the future is superstars doing bar mitzvahs.

That’s a fricking big part. But here’s the thing. You get your speaking engagement to show up and tell everybody how horrible this stuff all is.

Yes, at the National Association of Blacksmiths.

The other thing you could say is that recorded music was an oligopolistic cartel. The only reason why musicians were getting paid what they were getting paid in the 1990s off CDs was because the record labels were price-fixing. CDs didn’t cost $16 because that was the floating market price. They cost $16 because the five record labels got together and fixed prices. And who ate it on that? Consumers. And why did consumers react so positively to digital music when it first came along? Because it broke the cartel. Book publishers are the same thing. Amazon broke that wide open. So would you rather live in that world or would you rather live in this world?

As a consumer, I’d rather live in this world. As a producer, I’m not so sure.

I think you’re going to do just fine. You might have to go on the road a little bit.

The whole article is worth reading, too.  Now let’s flip to this Forbes article on the Taylor Swift juggernaut.

…Swift is on pace to sell more than 1 million copies of 1989 in its opening week—a feat no solo artist has achieved since Swift herself did it two years ago with Red.

The shocking part is not that Swift is doing this, but that any artist is doing this. It’s not just that there hasn’t been a single platinum opening week this year. There hasn’t been a single platinum albumthis year, unless you count the Frozen soundtrack.

All of this leads some industry observers to suspect that  1989 could be the last platinum album ever .

“I would like to believe that this recent achievement could be a sign of more to come,” says entertainment attorney Lori Landew of Fox Rothschild. “[But] I tend to believe that it is more an aberration that can be attributed to a super strong and loyal fan base.”

We live in changing times, don’t we?


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38449 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Will Taylor Swift’s 1989 be the Last Platinum Album We Ever See?

  • Maybe I misunderstood but it sounds like being certified platinum is based on physical sales. That to me does not say “there will be no more platinum records until Taylor releases her next album” but “the method for calculating record sales is outdated”.


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