Monday, April 23, 2007

The RIAA and the Astounding Analogy

Last post I offered up an option to the RIAA –- adapt with the times. My example was the publisher Street and Smith, and how they took their creative content (the Shadow) and continually repackaged it for whatever media the public was consuming at the time. That same publisher provides an example of what happens if you stick with the same business model through thick or thin.

Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact magazine holds the distinction of being the oldest scine fiction magazine continually in print. Started in 1930 as Astounding Science Fiction, the magazine was soon sold to Street and Smith during the heyday of the pulps. Circulation soared, with adolescent boys making up the primary readership. The market matured, and so did the magazine. Under the editorship of John W. Campbell, Astounding printed more adult fiction. Classic stories by Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and many others debuted in the pages of Astounding in the 1940’s.

After World War II, most pulp magazines died off, as the readership shifted to paperbacks. Astounding continued to thrive, however, finding a new readership among those in the fields of science and technology. In time, the magazine changed its name to Analog, citing that its stories were analogs of what could be (this was in the early 1960’s – before “analog” became the downside of “digital”).

By the 1970’s circulation began declining. Although Analog always held its own against rival publication, most adolescents were now interested in TV and movie science fiction, and never got around to the fiction magazines. Analog was sold to Ziff-Davis, and continues publication today, with a circulation of about 10,000.

The lesson for the RIAA? If you stay the course, you can still be profitable – just not as much as you were before.

If the RIAA insists on sticking to the concept of selling bits of plastic, then they should look to Analog. The market will shrink, but eventually stabilize. They can expect a modest profit, rather than the massive profit they currently enjoy.

Despite the lawsuits and lobbying, CD sales will continue to shrink. I don’t think CDs will disappear entirely. After all, the Internet didn’t kill newspapers, e-books didn’t kill paper-printed books, and although virtually everyone uses a computer at work, we still don’t have a paperless office.

So those are the lessons from Street and Smith. Adapt with the times, or be prepared to make less money doing the same old thing. And despite the RIAA’s best efforts, “none of the above” is not an option.

- Ralph

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