Keeping on top of technology innovation

The Times They Are A-Changin’: A Lesson from the Music Industry

Without much fanfare the music industry recently announced that for the first time since 1999 global music revenues had grown. Just 0.3%, but an increase is an increase.

This slight rise in revenue has been celebrated by some as hard won success from an industry trying to redefine itself in the digital era. Nevertheless, the 2013 figure is just 40% of that of its 1999 peak. Rest assured the music industry as it was in the late 20th century is not Back For Good.

It’s a sad and well known story; since the inception of file sharing sites at the turn of the millennium, the internet in all its different guises – file sharing, YouTube, piracy – has enabled access to music more easily than ever before (not to mention for free), good for some, but has left the traditional model of music production and consumption in tatters.

The music industry was slow to react to change and even now is only just beginning to understand how to monetise its output when, depending on how honest they are, consumers have no real need to pay for it.

Should the music industry have seen the seismic shifts of the digital era coming? Perhaps not. Should it have worked harder to understand the brave new world once it had arrived? Certainly.

The music industry is undoubtedly not alone in struggling to do deal with the speed of technological advancement. There are countless other examples of businesses – ranging from supermarkets to handset manufacturers – that have been left floundering by technical innovations that have led to consumers wanting more or demanding different experience.

Technology innovation is unlikely to slow down so it’s clear that researchers and marketers need to get to grips with what these changes can mean and better prepare businesses for the disruption, good or bad, that they create.

What will new technologies enable consumers to do start doing or do differently? What are the underlying needs that this technology addresses? Or even, does the technology create new needs and behaviour change? These are all questions that could and should be asked.