Digital disruption in the recording industry
With the rise of peer-to-peer software like Napster, many predicted that the digitalisation, sharing and dematerialisation of music would bring a radical transformation within the recording industry. This opened up a period of controversy and uncertainty in which competing visions were articulated of technology-induced change, markedly polarised between utopian and dystopian accounts with no clear view of ways forwards. A series of moves followed as various players sought to valorise music on the digital music networks, culminating in an emergence of successful streaming services. This thesis examines why there was a mismatch between initial predictions and what has actually happened in the market. It offers a detailed examination of the innovation processes through which digital technology was implemented and domesticated in the recording industry. This reveals a complex, contradictory and constantly evolving landscape in which the development of digital music distribution was far removed from the smooth development trajectories envisaged by those who saw these developments as following a simple trajectory shaped by technical or economic determinants. The research is based upon qualitative data analysis of fifty five interviews with a wide range of entrepreneurs and innovators, focusing on two successful innovation cases with different points of insertion within the digital recording industry; (1) Spotify: currently the world’s most popular digital music streaming service; and (2) INgrooves: an independent digital music distribution service provider whose system is also used by Universal Music Group. The thesis applies perspectives from the Social Shaping of Technology (“SST”) and its extension into Social Learning in Technological Innovation. It explores the widely dispersed processes of innovation through which the complex set of interactions amongst heterogeneous players who have conflicting interests and differing commitments involved in the digital music networks guided diverging choices in relation to particular market conditions and user requirements. The thesis makes three major contributions to understanding digital disruption in the recording industry. (1) In contrast to prevailing approaches which take P2P distribution as the single point of focus, the study investigates the multiplicity of actors and sites of innovation in the digital recording industry. It demonstrates that the dematerialisation of music did not lead to a simple, e.g. technologically-driven transformation of the industry. Instead a diverse array of realignments had to take place across the music sector to develop digital music valorisation networks. (2) By examining the detailed processes involved in the evolution of digital music services, it highlights the ways in which business models are shaped through a learning process of matching and finding constantly changing digital music users’ needs. Based on the observation that business models must be discovered in the course of making technologies work in the market, a new framework of ‘social shaping of business models’ is proposed in order to conceptualise business models as an emergent process in which firms refine their strategies in the light of emerging circumstances. (3) Drawing upon the concepts of musical networks (Leyshon 2001) and mediation (Hennion 1989), the thesis investigates the interaction of the diverse actors across the circuit of the recording business – production, distribution, valorisation, and consumption. The comprehensive analysis of the intricate interplay between innovation actors and their interactions in the economic, cultural, legal and institutional context highlights the need to develop a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the recording industry.