What do universities have in common with record labels?

Interesting article on Quartz.com tracking how “the internet’s power to unbundle content sparked a rapid transformation of the music industry’ and arguing that”and it’s doing the same thing to higher education today.

Let’s start with the recorded music industry.

It’s no surprise that

The unbundling of albums in favor of individual songs was one of the biggest causes of the music industry’s decline.

It cannibalized the revenue of record labels as 99-cent songs gained popularity over $20 albums.

What did surprise me us that recording industry revenues have dropped by half from the $14 billion in 2000.

QZ Chart 1

The eroding revenues and and internet dynamics have “changed the way music labels had to operate in order to maintain profitability.

The traditional services of labels: identifying artists; investing in them; recording, publishing, and distributing their work; and marketing them—are now increasingly offered a la carte.”

And, talk about the top 1%  and distribution of riches …

Being a recording artist these days is a hard gig …

Pressure from labels then had downstream effects on content creators, specifically artists.

The top one 1% of artists now take home 77% of revenue, and the rest is spread across an increasing number of artists.

The pain of the record labels is forced on artists through smaller royalty payments.


Now, what’s the parallel to higher education?


“This last decade of the music industry presages the coming decade of education.”

  • Choice is expanding at every level, from pre-k to graduate school.
  • The individual course, rather than the degree, is becoming the unit of content.
  • And universities are facing increased pressure to unbundle their services.

So what will the future of education look like?

Quartz sees a couple of broad trends

  • · The price of content will freefall … think cheaper textbooks
  • · The supply of learning content will swell … While it may make less sense for a professor in New York City to write a book, it makes a whole lot of sense for one in Mumbai.
  • · Education will be personalized … as students will increasingly be able to build degree programs from a wide variety of institutions offering specialized courses.
  • · Universities will be .. working as talent agencies … drawing royalties and license fees from the content professors create.

And, re: winners and losers

  • Students are the big winners … with lower tuition costs and greater choice.
  • Great professors with interdisciplinary knowledge will see license and royalty fees go up
  • Average professors will find their incomes shrinking and their job insecurity growing. The ranks of professors will quickly diverge into the 1% and everyone else.

Check the article for more details.


My take: A clever analogy with some strong teaching points … but overlooks the need for competency certification (i.e. degrees) … and fun.

Those may be enough to stem the tide.


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