TIME Magazine search results for “Baseball” and “Orchestra”

fig. 1 TIME Magazine - mentions of orchestra (Michael Di Mauro)
fig. 1 TIME Magazine – mentions of orchestra (Michael Di Mauro)

Greg Sandow, in his first of a series of three posts of a “timeline of the crisis,” gives us a graph of search results (fig. 1) for TIME Magazine search results for “Orchestra” compiled by Michael Di Mauro. Set aside the fact that the graph is an attempt to be a bivariate analysis (the Entertainment / reviews relevant to ‘orchestra’ is simply a subset of the total search result) “comparing” Employment rate with search results (I’m not even sure why this is included here), it is really just a univariate analysis describing one type of data–namely the “orchestra” search result.

While useful, univariate descriptions don’t tell us much and the contention is that there is a big dropoff after 1969 which heralds some kind of crisis in Classical Music.  As Greg says:

 Could the meaning of it be any clearer? It shows classical music losing its force in American culture. The mentions of orchestras — in both articles and music reviews — fell by two-thirds in 1969, and continued to fall after that, picking up only in the past few years.

Yes, it could be a lot clearer.  In a comment on Greg’s facebook wall and on his post I bring in some historical context with an alternative explanation for what might be happening.  Basically, editorial changes in longer styled essays happened right around the death of one of TIME Magazine founders, Henry Luce.  I suspected there might be fewer mentions of everything since there would be fewer articles overall.  I also mentioned that the exact period within which that purported period where classical music is losing its force corresponded to the changing directions of Magazine and print media in response to television becoming the dominant media (and thus catching the bigger piece of advertising dollars).  I quoted from Croteau & Hoynes book, “The Business of Media: Corporate Media and the Public Interest” (pp. 58-59) to explain the latter:

The threat to magazines, many of which competed directly with television for national advertisers, was even more severe. Much like the radio industry, the magazine industry retooled and adapted to the new media environment. As magazines changed, economic necessities were the key factors shaping their evolution. In the 1950s, industry leaders began to transform their products to survive in an era when they would be a secondary medium in the shadow of television.

The Magazine industry followed a strategy similar to radio, moving from general interest national magazines to the specialized magazine with a demographically targeted audience. One indication of change in the magazine industry was the financial failure of several high circulation national magazines. Between 1969 and 1972, three of the most widely read magazines in the country–the Saturday Event Post, Life, and Look—all folded. While each of these weekly magazines had more than 6 million readers, they maintained such high circulation revenues to stay afloat. As national advertisers shifted their attention–and their dollars—toward television, the national magazines who offered general interest fare to a mass audience (just what television was offering) quickly lost ground with advertisers.

Advertisers, in fact, deserted these national magazines before readers did. Despite continuing popularity among readers, the economics of the magazine industry led to the shutdown of these widely read publications. This is a classic example of the unique dynamics involved in the “dual-product” market within which media firms operate. In this case, even though magazines were able to attract a large readership, it was abandonment by advertisers that led to the demise of these publications. The market was respond to the “customer” who really mattered: advertisers.

With television dominating the national media scene, particularly in the eyes of advertisers, the magazine industry turned toward specialized publications for niche markets. Such targeted publications—for young women or sports fans or nature lovers–could succeed in financial terms with smaller circulations because they attracted specialized advertising that was directed at the target audience. Advertisers interested in reaching demographically specific audience segments (by age, gender, region, etc.) or readers with a passion for a specific set of activities (sports, cooking), etc.) were perfect matches for the new specialized magazines. These new magazines, that began to populated the newsstands beginning in the 1960s, provided a high profile alternative for advertisers who did not want, or could not afford, the national marketing campaigns that were the domain of network television.

Greg’s response to the editorial direction change was in typical cherry-picking fashion:

First, it seems unlikely on its face. The number of items in Time mentioning orchestras decreased to less than a third of what they’d been in the past. Can this have been due largely to a change in format? Hardly seems possible. There were, after Luce’s death, so many fewer items in each issue of the magazine?

The other thing to say is that your hypothesis can easily be tested. All we have to do is search for some word that — thinking of the overall state of our culture — would be as likely to show up in, let’s say, the 1930s and the 1970s. So i searched for “baseball.” The word appeared in 82 articles in 1939, and 71 in 1979. If your hypothesis proved true, we’d expect to see many fewer articles with baseball in them in 1979. But we don’t. The hypothesis appears to fail.

Why Greg randomly picked those dates, I don’t know.  He could have used 1969 (87 articles) and 1973 (88 articles) to better make his case that there wasn’t much change.  Or even better, he could have selected articles 1928 (52 articles) to contrast with his 1979 (71 articles) selection to show there’s actually been an increase in mentions.  Alternatively, he could have picked 1957 (131 articles) and 1974 (56 articles) to show that baseball has lost force in US culture and fallen by nearly two-thirds!  Point is, it’s easy to cherry-pick to make your case.

I was actually curious in what was really the trend, and used a line graph to show a bivariate description of search results for “Baseball” and “Orchestra” (fig 2. – you can view it as a Google visualization with mouseovers for the individual datapoints here) and discovered that until the late 70s the number of articles follow a very similar direction, if not number.  As I said above, by 1974 the number of articles for baseball had fallen to 56 and hovered in the 60 to 70 range during the 70s.  This is after a high point of articles during the 50s to early 60s where the number hovered in the 90 to 120 range (with a peak to 131 in 1957 as mentioned above).

TIME Magazine search results for "Baseball" and "Orchestra"
fig. 2 TIME Magazine search results for “Baseball” and “Orchestra” (Jon Silpayamanant)

The divergence in the late 70s is of interest as my response to Greg’s cherry-picked example discusses the historical context of the post-Sports Broadcasting Act which led to Sports leagues creating broadcast licenses in the 1960s and after.  With increased media concentration, this has only accelerated and we can see that there’s a sharp upward trend (with some dips) in articles about baseball.  Curiously, the highest number of articles is in 2013 (355) which has yet to end.  Also note that there is also an upward trend in Orchestra articles as well, though very modest and it doesn’t come close to the low point in 1943 (where we have 62 articles) until 2008 (61 articles) and 2013 (58 articles to date).

Interestingly, during the 30s and early 40s there was also a rise in number of articles.  I suspect that with the creation of 150+ orchestra by FERA and the WPA Federal Music Project and the many thousands of concerts and educational initiatives contributed to the small divergence between Baseball and Orchestra articles.  Note that by the late 40s and early 50s articles both rose sharply after a short dip in both – likely due to more focus on the War during the dip and post-WWII prosperity afterwards.

Of course, neither of these tell us much–this is one print entity amongst many thousands and whatever trends we see here may not be reflected in other print entities.  But now I’m curious as to how much media concentration in megacorporations has contributed to the rise of Sports (and Pop Music).  As I mentioned in a previous post between 1969-1973, the Gate revenue for Major League Baseball averaged 61% of total revenue.  By 2001 Gate revenue was 40% of total revenue and by 2006 35%.  Might be interesting to see how closely the increasing proportion of media licensing revenue follows increased media exposure.

In the end, all this tells us is how much TIME Magazine values these things and as it slowly moves in the direction of its competitors, Newsweek and US News & World Report, into digital-land, maybe what it thinks isn’t particularly relevant anyway.

Declining Audiences for Live Performances


Here’s something:

“…attendance at [_____] reached an all-time high in 2007.  It has consistently dropped ever since.  In 2011, the [___] posted the lowest total attendance….  At a time when everything else regarding [_____] is growing, [____] has seen its paying customers steadily drop by more than 4.5 percent since 2007.”1

and then this:

“But overall, attendance in the [___] is down for the second straight season…In terms of capacity, the [___] sold 91.1% of their tickets 2008-09. In 2009-10, that figure fell to 89.6%. And this season, [___] teams are drawing just 88.6% of capacity, leaving nearly 12% of all seats empty each night.”2

Continue reading “Declining Audiences for Live Performances”

Cost of Doing Business Sometimes Doesn’t Reflect Actual Costs to the Business


In the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek there’s a piece by Paul M. Barret, Will Brain Injury Lawsuits Doom or Save the NFL?, that discusses what should probably be considered a negative externality.

Even as an expected 110 million Americans take to their couches for the 47th Super Bowl on Feb. 3, Locks is waging a legal battle that represents the most serious threat to the viability of big-time football since an outbreak of fatal skull fractures back in the leather-helmet days. Locks and a group of allied plaintiffs’ lawyers are suing the National Football League on behalf of more than 4,000 former players and their wives who accuse the $9.5 billion-a-year business of covering up life-altering brain injuries.

Despite—or perhaps because of—its inherent brutality, football remains America’s most popular sport by far. Not only is the NFL the country’s single most lucrative sports enterprise, the league and its 32 teams also provide an atrophying television industry with its most profitable programming and an ideal vehicle for selling cars, beer, and erectile-dysfunction remedies. (The teams evenly share broadcast and licensing revenue. Ticket sales are split in a manner favoring home teams.)

I’ve posted a bit about at least one negative externality, namely start-up and operating costs of stadiums, which Sports Franchises benefit from since many of those costs are covered by public funds.  This piece is describing how the costs of player injuries isn’t borne by the NFL, and that the industry might have actually stifled knowledge about Football related head injuries through proprietary research which it has actively promoted.  The latter, as I’ve talked about in past posts, falls under publication bias.

The basic idea here is that, if we were to factor in the full start-up and variable costs of the industry, we might have a more accurate picture of the actual profitability of the industry.  What we consider to be profitable entertainment industries (e.g. Pop Music, Sports) will look far less “sustainable” and be less likely to function as a foil to the supposedly failing, unprofitable, unsustainable, or “broken” Performing Arts economic models.

What Really Handicapped Classical Music?

Prime, retrograde, inverse, and retrograde-inverse permutations.

Bill Eddins wrote a provocative and over the top post claiming it’s Schoenberg’s fault that classical music has lost its audience.  His follow up post, No One Expects the 12-Tone Inquisition, explains some of the method to his madness–namely attacking Sacred Cows, but one statement he made really caught my attention in light of all the issues surrounding the rise of the mass media industry that serves as infrastructural support for more dominant entertainment industries:

The flip side of that coin is that I don’t believe in coincidences.  The “composer as international celebrity” idea effectively died between 1945 and the early ’70s, and I do not believe that it was a “coincidence” that this happened when this particular compositional technique was in the ascendant.

Continue reading “What Really Handicapped Classical Music?”

Death of the Pop Music Industry and the decline of Popular Culture

The audience at the Sam Houston Racetrack (Houston, TX) during day three of the Willie Nelsen Picnic 2008 (July 5th). This was the biggest crowd of the three shows I played with multi-Grammy Award winner, Ray Price.  A significant proportion of the audience was comprised of an older demographic than one would find at some Pop Concerts.

John Loken, a former record label marketing exec posted an intriguing blog last February (2011) titled “The Death of Pop Music?” where he talks about the decline of, well, Pop Music.  In particular, the industry “defined as the commercialization of short form songwriting, a historic aberration that lasted for the better part of the 20th century” is what he’s referring to here.  He gives a short run-down of that industry’s history that’s a counterpoint to the history of how the Cost Disease has shaped Pop Music that I outlined in a previous post.

The pop music era started with ragtime and the player piano roll, evolved with composers like Gilbert & Sullivan and George Gershwin, and flourished with the advent of broadcast radio which popularized recording artists during WWII. Pop music reached its creative zenith in the 60s through 80s (a completely subjective analysis, I’ll grant you), and hit its commercial peak in 2000 when the inflated returns from CDs masked the creative stagnation underneath. (Again, ‘stagnation’ may be too strong a term, but I think digital recording tools removed all barriers to entry, effectively diluting the market with mediocre artistry; a separate post, I suppose). Napster’s disintermediation and Apple’s unbundling of the album hastened the collapse of concentrated/controlled music distribution – the engine of economic rents for decades.

Continue reading “Death of the Pop Music Industry and the decline of Popular Culture”