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Young People Are Buying Less Music

March 31, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ True or false: Young people love to buy music, they crave rock ‘n’ roll and record stores are their favorite places to shop for sounds.

Answers: False, false and false, at least for increasing numbers of people.

A consumer profile of music buyers issued by the Recording Industry Association of America offers insights into a business buffeted by change from several directions.

People ages 15 to 29 _ the bedrock of a youth-obsessed industry _ are buying less music, the survey found. This age group accounted for 39 percent of music purchases in 1998, down from 42 percent the year before.

``In many ways, music is much more ubiquitous for young people,″ said Hilary Rosen, RIAA president and chief executive. ``You can get it on the radio, get it on MTV, get it on the Internet. There are many more choices out there to get music for free.″

Through the MP3 technology, computer users are able to sell or trade copies of songs through the Internet, an activity that’s causing major headaches now for the music industry.

Rosen said Internet distribution is a small factor in the trend. But Siddiq Bello, publisher of industry newsletter The MP3 Impact, suggested Wednesday that the availability of music in cyberspace is responsible for a real dent in sales, particularly among people ages 15 to 24.

Consumers 30 and older bought half the music sold last year, compared with 34 percent a decade ago.

The size of the young age group is shrinking, Rosen said. The industry has also heard from many young people who didn’t like much of the new music put out last year, RIAA spokeswoman Alexandra Walsh said.

Rock ‘n’ roll is still the most popular category of music, but its slip is showing. Rock accounted for just under 26 percent of the music sold last year, down from 33 percent in 1997 and 42 percent in 1989.

Some of the biggest rock stars of the past decade, such as R.E.M., Pearl Jam and U2, have found their influence on music buyers has dipped dramatically.

Rock sales are highly dependent on radio airplay, and more stations are playing oldies instead of new music, Rosen said. It’s also a genre dominated by white males, and women bought more music than men in 1998 for the second straight year.

Rock is also losing its dominant status to rap and rhythm ‘n’ blues. Rap’s stake of the marketplace has doubled over the last decade. Rap and rhythm ‘n’ blues together accounted for 23 percent of sales last year, up from 16 percent in 1989.

Latin music is also booming, its sales up 25 percent last year, in large part because record companies have begun courting this demographic, Rosen said.

The dominance of record stores as the most popular shopping destination is also fading, although more slowly in the past few years. Fifty-one percent of consumers bought music in record stores last year, down from 72 percent in 1989.

Cost-cutting retailers like Wal Mart and Best Buy are taking up a larger share of the marketplace. Just over 1 percent of consumers bought music through the Internet last year, a category the industry only started counting in 1996.

The consumer profile is based on 3,051 telephone and Internet interviews conducted by Chilton Research Services.

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