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On May 1, a financial news website called 2/47 Wall Street published an article entitled “The Death of Classical Music in America”.

My last post addressed the faulty reasoning on which articles on this subject are often based. Today, I’d like to address the role of facts.

The section that particularly caught my eye was this one, about the classical record industry. Of all the things covered by the article, it’s the bit I know most about.

There are a lot of unverified, unquestioned assertions here. Some of them deal with things that are hard to check. The most we can say about them is “they haven’t been proven” or perhaps “they haven’t even been shown to be likely”. Let’s look at the numbers though. It’s easy to check numbers. They’re right or wrong.

Are these numbers are a continuation of the quote from F. Paul Driscoll, or offered as facts by the author? Either way, they’re wrong.

Page 5 of the IFPI‘s  2010 Digital Music Report says the digital music market was worth $4.6bn, or 29% of total trade revenues. That means the global recorded music industry was worth $15.9bn, not $12bn. These are wholesale numbers. Total retail numbers are almost exactly 50% higher.

The article estimates classical music’s share of the market to be 0.3%, or $36m. This is even less accurate. You have to pay to see the IFPI’s 2010 genre figures, but Music & Copyright show similar numbers here. They put classical music’s share of the global market at 5.5%, or $1.4bn retail (2009 wholesale numbers here).

5.5% of $15bn is $874.5m. Even if you accept the lower total figure of $12bn, it’s still $660m, or 18 times higher than stated in this article – and that’s wholesale. In 2009, classical music retail turnover was $1.4bn, or 38 times the value given in the article.

This is one detail from the article that I knew off the top of my head was wildly wrong, and it’s one of the easiest parts to check. How much else is total bullshit? Didn’t you people go to university? Didn’t you learn to write an essay? Didn’t anybody tell you why you cite sources? Check sources? Question things people tell you? Or did you think that none of that matters when you’re only publishing financial analysis? Do you expect people to base decisions on something this poorly researched, or is there some other point to it? What would happen if you reported Apple’s quarterly earnings or Google’s stock at 1/38th of the correct value? Do you think a disclaimer like “articles are simply the opinions of the writers” makes it ok to reproduce outright falsehoods as if they were facts?

I would genuinely be interested to know the answers to these questions.

I don’t expect everything I read to come with a bibliography, but we need to be careful what we believe – not just when we’re basing decisions on a report that is sitting in front of us, but also when we let this sort of hearsay slowly and quietly turn to “knowledge” in the backs of our minds, only to be recalled as a general idea of the state of things at some point in the future.

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  1. May 6, 2011

    I’m speechless. Thank you for this.

  2. Molly #
    May 6, 2011

    According to the Baltimore Sun’s Tim Smith, there are issues with the numbers in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra section as well. Apparently the figures the writer used in his analysis were two years old and, as you might imagine in this economy, a lot has changed since then.

    • properdiscord #
      May 6, 2011

      It’s nice to know others are questioning it too.

      One of the things I find most frustrating about this kind of lazy journalism is the degree to which it’s much easier to write than it is to refute. In the time it would take me to fact-check the whole thing, they could write a dozen more just like it.

      I keep thinking about doing a regular “The week on Planet Lebrecht” feature, debunking his bullshit. The trouble is, it’s just a huge amount of work to research properly.

      I don’t have any ambition to put a stop to this kind of nonsense, but it would be nice to undermine the degree to which it affects the way our business is run.

  3. 247wallst #
    May 6, 2011

    Hello Proper Discord:

    You were right about the recording industry statistics. Thanks for pointing out the error, which I have corrected.

    Regards,

    Jonathan Berr
    24/7 Wall St.

    • properdiscord #
      May 6, 2011

      You are most welcome. Please fact-check the rest of the article.

  4. Chris #
    May 6, 2011

    http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/classicalmusic/2011/05/baltimore_symphony_disputes_in.html

    The BSO is shown with a deficit of $5.3 million. But, as BSO president/CEO Paul Meecham points out, “that’s two-year-old information. We balanced the budget for 2009-2010 and we are on track to balance the budget for ’10-’11. We have no accumulated debt. It’s unfortunate that the article was written by a journalist who did not make an effort to check the information. A quick call from the writer would have clarified things, but he didn’t do that. It’s very frustrating.”

  5. BA #
    May 6, 2011

    Among the other errors I noted in this article are the mis-statement that the Detroit symphony cancelled the remainder of its season, when in fact they are currently playing concerts. The yearly deficit he cites for the Houston symphony is wildly inaccurate- that 14.5 million dollar number is the operating deficit before any endowment or contributed incomce is considered. That actual deficit last year in Houston was .5 million. Had it been 14.5 million they would not be in business at the moment. At .5 million, it’s hard to understand how the Houston Symphony- while certainly facing challenges- belongs in this group at all. However he does not make that mistake consistently with other orchestras. It’s almost impossible to figure out what his numbers mean for many of the orchestras. Again- all of this could have been clarified by a quick fact check and yet this article has the potential to do real damage to many orchestras in the eyes of their donors. This author owes many of the orchestras cited a complete retraction.

  6. Ron #
    May 6, 2011

    Unfortunately, what passes for modern journalism these days is that you pull stuff out of your a** and hope nobody calls you on it. As we see every day in the political arena, people just freaking make things up to suit the argument du jour. Even when people *are* called on their errors/omissions/blatant lies, nobody really seems to care any more, and the people making stuff up just move on to the next topic and make up more ‘facts’ to support their assertions.

    NEVER in this country’s history, arguably, has the truth meant so little to so many.

  7. SW #
    May 7, 2011

    Great questions! Might I propose some tentative answers?

    “How much else is total bullshit?” A lot; bullshit sells even when it isn’t used as fertilizer. This is why bullshitters are in such demand from people who have developed a taste for it.

    “Didn’t you people go to university?” This explains the meaning of the term “Bullshit U.”

    “Didn’t you learn to write an essay?” It was in the class called “The Correct Way to Write Incorrect Essays.” This class is offered in most every Bullshit U.

    “Didn’t anybody tell you why you cite sources?” And blow one’s cover? Gosh, no!

    “Check sources?” Sources? Sore says….

    “Question things people tell you?” And risk not getting my 4.0 at Bullshit U? Are you crazy? You obviously missed Sucking Up 101.

    “Or did you think that none of that matters when you’re only publishing financial analysis?” Question-answered-with-a-question-alert: Why should one conclude the financial analysis is more often correct than not? When one actually questions what people tell you, one becomes a true radical, and that the Bullshit U graduate and posrgraduate “radicals” cannot allow. It upsets them, you see. UC? The only radical which is allowed is the approved radical, and the only subversion which is appaluded in the traditional subversion. How dare one wonder off the campus! I’m shocked — by the electrified fence….

    Hurray for “proper” discord — an’ dat chord too.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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