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Monday, January 08, 2007

Why should anyone care about the chart?


All this talk of a revolution taking place in the charts now that downloads are included in the calculations overlooks the larger question – in a downloading world, why the hell does anyone other than the record companies or the chronically insecure need a chart at all?

Charts were introduced as a means of helping record shops decide which of the many new releases they should stock. A song went in at number 43 on the basis of how many copies it sold in a small number of shops, all the other record shops ordered it, people went into the shops, listened to whatever was new to the chart, in some cases bought it, more copies were thus manufactured and distributed, radio play was cranked up, TOTP appearances booked and so it went on, around and around.

It was a model that was built for the world of physical distribution, where resources had to be managed and directed in order to make the machine work. Somebody had to decide how many copies of a record were pressed and where they were sent to. Who's doing that today?

The business analysts would call it a "push" model. People responded to the limited amount of material that could be placed before them at a given time.

But the same business analysts will tell you that the web is all about "pull". Everything in the world is now front of you and all you've got to do is choose what you want. If a million people decide to buy the MIKA single today, the record company won't have to manufacture any more copies and get them into the distribution chain.

It's no longer a physical business. This ought to be embraced by all right thinking people for the amount of waste and expense it saves. But it doesn't seem to be that way. The people who are clinging most desperately to the life rafts of the Old Ways are the record companies, the broadcasters and the acts themselves, all of whom are trying to find a way of deciding who's This Week's Winner when the truth is that nobody cares any more. There is no such thing as the most popular record any more. It's a dead parrot. If it wasn't nailed to the perch by the the bureaucrats at the BBC and the BPI (who between them are historically responsible for the slow decline in interest in the charts) it would be pushing up daisies by now. HMV are bailing already. Who's next?

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