YouTube Hurts Music Album Sales

It may be that YouTube costs the music industry more than it brings in. At least that is what some recent universities’ studies suggest. Research indicates that YouTube doesn’t only serve as a promotional tool for the music industry. It may be downright detrimental to sales. While a great deal has been said and written about the potential role of this service in promoting and discovering new artists, research results cast doubt on YouTube’s positive effect with regard to the big names and best selling albums.

This is always a raging debate when discussing the merits of giving away a product for free. It seems hard to quantify whether such policies boost or actually hinder sales- be they related to listening or viewing. It raises the question of when does free promotion actually become detrimental to sales? The University of Colorado and Fairfield University in Connecticut sought to find answers in studies that they launched. The results are driven mainly by chart- topping albums. They report there is no promotional effect of YouTube on such album sales. In addition, there is no effect on Google searches for the album’s artists either.  That is, the people listening on YouTube are apparently people who would know about the album anyway. But they may not buy it because they can listen to it on YouTube for free.

It is difficult to conclude, however, that YT is hurting overall revenue. This is because the industry also receives a significant amount of money in advertising revenue from Google. But the music industry is not convinced. They point to a 2009 event to gain clarification. I refer to the 2009 Warner Music YouTube blackout and its effect on that record label’s sales.  Then, Warner halted all their music listening from YT due to a licensing dispute.  Researchers used this event to compare the sales of Warner’s artists listed in the Billboard Album 200 to those from labels that still had their videos on YouTube.  It turns out that Warner’s top personalities sold many more albums during the blackout. In fact the removal of content from YT increased sales of albums by an average of about 10,000 units per week.

Accordingly, researchers concluded that YouTube doesn’t always serve as a promotional tool- at least not for the top artists. All which feeds the debate as it relates to second-tier artists and their music. It seems it will always be hard to quantify whether YT costs the music industry more than it brings in. Perhaps more research will shine some light on the subject. For many factors apparently affect the music buying public’s buying habits. I, for one, hope that YouTube continues to beam videos and play music. If I like what I see and hear, I, personally, will be a buyer. What about you?

Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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