A FEW years ago Universal Music Group spied a gap in the market. How about a CD for people who grew up in the 1950s and wanted to revisit the pop music of their youth? The label pulled together songs by British and American artists, some well-known (Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison), others largely forgotten. “Dreamboats and Petticoats” was released in time for Christmas 2007.
That gap turned out to contain a seam of gold. “Dreamboats and Petticoats” has sold enough copies to be certified as double platinum. It has inspired a West End musical and three follow-up albums, with another due in November. In total the series has sold 2.3m copies, mostly in Britain—a country where fewer than 120m albums were shifted last year. And virtually everybody who bought the album forked over money for a compact disc. “They don’t download, and they don’t want to download,” says Brian Berg of Universal.
“They” are consumers in late middle-age or beyond, who increasingly drive the music market. In Britain people aged 60 or over spent more on pop-music albums in 2009 than did teenagers or people in their 20s, according to the BPI, a trade group. Sony Music’s biggest-selling album worldwide last year was “The Gift”, by Susan Boyle, a 50-year-old Scot whose appeal derives in part from her lack of youth. And what has happened to music has also happened to other forms of entertainment.
The noisy disruption of media business models by the internet in the past decade has obscured a profound demographic transformation. Whether they are buying music, listening to the radio, reading newspapers or watching television, media consumers are ageing even more quickly than the overall population. Rather than trying to reverse this trend by attracting younger people, many companies are attempting to profit from the greying of media.