Internet is killing music biz - or not

Sometimes a pair of headlines just don't match up. "Music Industry Says Swapping of Computer Files Affecting Disc Sales," the Associated Press trumpeted late last month over a report of declining CD sales near college campuses.

But last week it ran a story topped with "A New Generation Is Swamping Music Stores," which noted that "the three fastest-selling albums ... in music history have all appeared within the past three months."

Don't blame the AP. The most likely answer is that both trends are true. College students with free access to high-speed Internet lines (still not common in homes) are swapping free music files using services like Napster, whose legal battle with the rock group Metallica has come to symbolize the issue of just who - if anyone - holds the rights to musical recordings once they're digitized.

The soaring CD sales are coming in large part from a younger crowd, the affluent children of baby boomers who are snapping up the sugary pop crooning of 'N Sync, Britney Spears, and the like, as well as hip-hop rhymester Eminem and rock-rap crossover Kid Rock. American teens now number 31 million and growing and spent $153 billion last year, according to MTV.

Music fans of all ages are also shelling out as much as $250 a ticket to see their favorite groups - from Ricky Martin to Tina Turner - live on tour this summer (see our story, page 19).

Will better encoding and legal actions by music companies shut down the free copying? Or is this the end of the music business as we have known it, as some claim?

Most important, will fans of pop music be winners or losers?

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