Revisiting Some Conventional Wisdom

So We Thought. But Then Again . . .

IN MUSIC, HARDWARE RULES In 2007, album sales fell 15.3 percent, compared with 2006, itself a slow year. Even if sales of 10 singles are counted as one album, sales were still down 9.5 percent.

Economists hadn’t known whether digitization would help or hurt music markets; many thought that greater exposure to music and the ease of online access might lead people to buy more. But in 2007 the outcome became clear: people tend to buy their favorite song from an album, online, rather than buy the whole album. More digital singles are being sold, but that doesn’t mean higher profits for the artists or the music companies. There are lower prices for music (99 cents a song on iTunes) and more of the profits are captured by the makers of hardware, most of all Apple with its iPod.

When it comes to piracy, illegal file-sharing on computer networks is not the main problem; instead, computer users, especially teenagers, burn CDs for one another. The music companies don’t have a good business model for making money from this.

Music company profits may not recover until other hardware manufacturers compete more successfully with Apple, which is selling songs very cheaply, knowing that the music will fuel demand for iPods. A more competitive hardware market would mean lower prices for the music players and eventually higher prices for music, as Apple would be less keen to sell the music so cheaply.

Markoff Profiles the Upcoming Patent Reform Fight

With a trenchant quote from Mark Lemley: Two Views of Innovation, Colliding in Washington

BACKERS of the new legislation are skeptical that the limits would have any major impact on incentives for individual inventors.

“I have to say I’m frankly astonished that apportionment has been this controversial,” said Mark A. Lemley, an intellectual-property scholar at Stanford who has testified in support of the legislation. “I can’t think of a straight-faced argument that you as a patent owner are entitled to more than your invention has contributed to a product.”