Japan Music Sales Blargh

Lantis Fesst (9/23/2014)

This is the executive summary (by the way of Babymetal)


This is the original article, via the NYT.


Here’s an example of doing it too much that it’s making inaccurate statements. (Also worth reading is that last link to an earlier Verge article which did do some justice to this topic–I guess the guy who wrote it up just didn’t get what the first author was trying to say.)


Here’s a better one but still a tad off.


The problem of the…problem is that nobody is really wrong-wrong. It’s  more sloppy writing, not really understanding the full picture, not really digging into the core issue. And it’s not like I’m asking for a lot, 10-20 minutes at Google can give you all that is relevant. Also in the mix I find some kind of unsettling presumptions that these tech presses have when they subsequently re-blogged the NYT article. Well, it starts with the NYT.

To sum it up, it’s basically assuming that by not adopting, or adapting fast enough, the services that in 2014 people know well of, such as Rdio or Spotify, Netflix or iTunes Music Store, that Japan is not “embracing the digital.”

That is just the first problem, by the way. Japan is one of the very first to “embrace the digital.” What happened is that because they are early adopters, Japan’s various licensing bodies went to work to protect and monetize its properties. They want a shot at it; they wouldn’t just cough it up to the apparent market winner just because. There is a reason why Sony didn’t license to iTunes until 2012 domestically–it’s because they see iTunes a competitor to their own digital businesses, much like iPods are competitors to Sony’s PMPs over the years. Is it fair to call that protectionist? Maybe. But isn’t it just normal competition, where entities that own the whole stack can leverage rights to benefit the platforms it invested in? Apple doesn’t publish any music, I mean, can you imagine what would happen if that’s the case? Japan’s strange CD-based ecosystem affords Sony (and others) to play hardball with their competitors in the licensing space, where as they couldn’t fold fast enough in other markets.

There are a bunch of other factors behind why JP publishers are reluctant to license to the likes of Spotify. One of it is partly what the NYT article touches on, is that these Japanese businesses are too slow to abandon ship and switch, as execs busily maintain the status quo. The other is the high prices at CD sales, and the great fear that it comes with as new business models subvert, especially coming from foreign companies that are used to a much lower physical price point. If you bought anything off iTunes Japan you would know. These are major incentives for Japanese rightsholders to not cooperate with foreign companies trying to enter the Japanese market. These are what I expect these articles to actually talk about.

What disturbs me is that none of the articles recognizes that they’re all expecting American (and UK for Spotify I guess) brands to march into Japan as if they own the place. OK maybe I shouldn’t expect so much in Verge’s case but I expected more from NYT and Forbes, that they’d at least respect this huge business and cultural gulf between Japan and the rest of the world, just in general, in terms of this industry. But nope, not even a word to recognize this. That’s not even starting to talk about the things they did recognize, such as music rental, or how a hard core physical purchasing culture has been fostered (and along with it a very strong used goods economy–it feels as if none of the above writers has ever sets foot inside a Book-off in Japan), doing streaming digitally ala Spotify and the like may not work at all as a core business.

[On the Book-off note, doesn’t it strike people when Japan’s #1 used media chain can establish international branches? That’s the kind of prestige reserved for very successful brands.]

And it’s not for lack of trying. On the domestic end or abroad. But all too quickly these articles seems to parrot a strange reluctance, and calling it strange, without really trying to actually explore why it is so.

But of course, it’s not such a bad thing–here’s one article that posits an interesting correlation to the strangeness: age.

The whole convo we’ve had on twitter is probably worth a read, if just to act as a sounding board for your own theories.

Between Tsutaya, Book-off, old people who buy old music everywhere, and all the other things that make Japan different, is it really a surprise that what works for Americans and Brits won’t work for Japan? And should it? It’s as preposterous as suggesting that Americans can buy more CDs if there are more idols in the USA.

Or maybe it’s not really that outrageous.

PS. Read some reports from 2012. Government output on study of music demographics, who buys what where, new media use, etc.

PPS. I’ll be hiding at AWA this weekend. Come and say hello. I’ll be wearing around a Myu happi one day and an IM@S 9th happi another day, which are probably the two most distinctive things you’ll find inside my luggage at AWA, I hope.

One Response to “Japan Music Sales Blargh”

  • omo

    IMO, a read based on what I posited above just imply that the NYT guy has somewhat of a narrative. Not quite an agenda, but a certain idea. I don’t think I might disagree, but it probably explains why the rather broad swath that ignores all the key realities that creates the situation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.