Theater of Cruelty

The death of mass culture

Do you think we just buy hit singles, watch Hollywood movies and read Dan Brown? Error. Narrow is becoming increasingly profitable.


[cultural consumption] – Everyone wants the same thing.

Christer Falck sighed so the heart became heavy and empty when Dagbladet wanted to know why in May he chose to step down C + C Records, the heartbeat that releases records with Karen Jo Fields, Sofian and Tungtvann. The trend seems clear: Idealists put the music on the shelf, while the media and the audience romp in Idol and other night flies. Or?

- When you operate on such a small scale as us, the changes in the music industry do not have much to say. It is difficult to make a living from music today, but it was also difficult before. The industry complains too much, says Jørgen Skjulstad, alias the electronics artist Center of the Universe and founder of the record company Metronomicon Audio.

- In relation to a music industry in crisis, we may be the cockroaches that survive a nuclear war, adds colleague Marius Ergo.

Ny Tid is visiting Metronopolis, the rehearsal room, studio and office The Metronomicon gang has built in a studio on Grünerløkka in Oslo. The band Hanny rehearses, and members of Magnus Moriarty and Now We've Got Members swirl around the room. Metronomicon Audio is far from public domain, but since the turn of the millennium they have released almost 30 albums with a large number of bands and artists. And goes in balance.

- We burn CD-R records in a circulation of around 500, focus on nice covers and sell the records for 50 kroner each. We do not take out salaries, but make the company go around, reach an audience and have fun. Now we will catch up with Rune Grammofon, who has just completed 50 releases, Skjulstad promises.

Selling less of more

Metronomicon Audio is typical of a new underground that is sprouting up all over the world. They reject the most commercial part of the industry, write their own rules and distribute the products via non-traditional channels. And the audience thanks yes. It is not that we are increasingly buying music from the VG list. On the contrary.

Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, has predicted the imminent death of mass culture in the blog "The Long Tail." Specialization, the jungle telegraph and an endless offering are the key words for both consumers and manufacturers in the future.

In his forthcoming book, with the self-explanatory title The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More, Anderson provides three driving rules for the future of cultural business.

  • Make the most available. Almost everything is worth offering if you can find one buyer.
  • Half the price. Then lower it further. sold three times as many songs for 49 cents as those for 99 cents.
  • Help consumers find what they want. Recommendations and cross-references from customers and friends who like something are more important than reviews.

Anderson is supported by Helge Birkelund, portal manager at, who since August last year has offered a million songs for eight kroner per piece through the service MSN Music. Although the bestsellers are suspiciously similar to the VG list, it is in the sea below that we find it interesting.

- 90 percent of the music we sell is not on the VG list. It is about buying nostalgia and exploring new artists, and we can see the contours of a democratization of music sales. In MSN Messenger, for example, you can show what kind of music you play yourself, just one of several signs that friends and acquaintances' recommendations are becoming increasingly important, says Birkelund.

Greater accessibility

MSN Music has recently sold Erling Stordahl's "Vesleblakken", The Pogues' Christmas hit "Fairytale of New York", the moss band Superfamily and the gospel group Ungfila. They may not sell as much, but they do sell, and this is typical: Today there are fewer and fewer bestsellers, while an increasing amount of cultural products sell a little in ever larger areas.

- The threshold for trying something new or picking up something old has become much smaller, because the availability online is much greater than in a record store, Birkelund believes.

The offerings in online stores such as Rhapsody, iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, eBay and QXL shatter traditional stores, and according to Chris Anderson, online buying patterns tell consumers that consumers are not at all concerned with bestsellers. It is easier to find and offer narrow products, and the recommendation systems that guide you to things you may not know you liked also work very well. Let's take an example:

Go to the music site and tap Coldplay on the list of the most popular artists. On the next page you will find recommendations for similar artists such as Doves, Travis and Echo and the Bunnymen – with listening samples. If you press the latter, you have been tipped off about The Church, The Teardrop Explodes and Robyn Hitchcock, in the space of two quick mouse clicks.

Visibility and references are in other words alpha and omega, and today's bands should not be afraid to put themselves in booths. Our new friends in Metronomicon Audio have not gained momentum by downloading via the web, but have focused on selling physical CD-Rs to an audience interested in music, design and collectibles – ie the whole package around a record release.

- We have a website, but so far our most important self-promotion is to send out e-mails about what we are doing. And it works surprisingly well. Metronomicon has many good friends, and when we have a concert, these friends often take five or six of their friends with them, says Jørgen Skjulstad.

[sales] Wired editor Chris Anderson believes the idea of ​​people's unstoppable appetite for bestsellers has arisen as a result of a poor match between supply and demand. A movie theater must attract 1500 spectators in a couple of weeks, while a record store must sell at least two copies of a CD a year to defend the shelf space. For example, the US's 1,7 million Indians were eaten with two movie theaters when the feature film Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India premiered.

Economists use the Pareto principle to estimate that only 20 percent of cultural products end up as best sellers, and according to the Recording Industry Association of America, only ten percent of multinational corporation CDs are profitable. Retail chain Wal-Mart has to sell at least 100.000 copies of a CD to make money, while online store Rhapsody sells its 400.000 most popular tunes at least once a month. More than half of's book sales come from sales of titles beyond the Top 130.000 list, which means the US book market may turn out to be twice as large as the biggest bookstores catch up.

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