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Cycles in symbol production? A new model to explain concentration, diversity and innovation in the music industry

  • Michael Christianen

With the publication of the article ‘Cycles in symbol production’ (Peterson and Berger 1975) a discussion started concerning the advantages and disadvantages of the production of cultural goods under market conditions. The analysis by Peterson and Berger showed a negative correlation between concentration in the recording industry, on the one hand, and the diversity and innovativeness of the music, on the other. Repetition of the analysis using data from the 1980s (Burnett 1990; Lopes 1992) has shown that for this period Peterson and Berger's hypotheses should be rejected. Is there a connection between concentration and diversity and innovation? Are there cycles in symbol production? There seems to be no conclusive answer. In this article, I will attempt to clear up this matter. First, I will repeat the analysis of the relation between concentration and diversity/innovation, using the same model as Peterson and Berger, but with different definitions for the variables concentration, diversity and innovation. Then I will suggest a new model, which can be helpful in uncovering other factors influencing diversity and innovation in the music industry. I will come to that later. Let me first give the reader a brief overview of previous research.

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Andersen, B., Hesbacher, P., Etzkorn, K.P. & Denisoff, R.S. 1980. ‘Hit record trends, 1940–1997’, Journal of Communication, Vol 30:2, spring 1980, pp. 3143
Burnett, Robert & Weber, R.P. 1988. ‘Concentration and diversity in the popular music industry, 1948–1986’. Unpublished manuscript, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Burnett, Robert. 1990. ‘Concentration and diversity in the international phonogram industry’. PhD Dissertation Dept of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Burnett, Robert. 1992. ‘The implications of ownership: changes for concentration and diversity in the phonogram industry’, Communication Research, Vol 19:6, pp. 749–69
Burnett, Robert. 1993. ‘The popular music industry in transition’, Popular Music & Society, Vol 17:1, pp. 87114.
Christianen, Michael 1994. ‘Culture industries and cultural diversity: the Dutch music industry’. Paper 8th International Congress on Cultural Economics, Witten/Herdecke, 08 24–27, 1994
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Mondak, J. 1989. ‘Cultural heterogeneity in capitalist society: in defence of repetition on the Billboard Hot 100’, Popular Music & Society, Vol 13:3, pp. 4557
Peterson, Richard A. and Berger, David G. 1975. ‘Cycles in symbol production: the case of popular music’, American Sociological Review, vol 40, pp. 158–73
Powell, Walter W. 1982. ‘From craft to corporation: the impact of ownership on book publishing’, in: Ettema, James & Whitney, (eds) Individuals in Mass Media Organizations: Creativity and Constraints (Beverly Hills), pp. 3352
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Schulze, Ralf. 1994. ‘Hit record trends on the German music market for popular music 1975–1993: cycles of market concentration and product diversity’. Paper 8th International Congress on Cultural Economics, Witten/Herdecke, 08 24–27, 1994
Visser, Henk. 1994. ‘Diversiteit en innovatie in de Nederlandse populaire muziekcultuur: Een onder-zoek naar het opgaan van een samenhang tussen economische en culturele processen’. MA-thesis, Vakgroep Communicatiewetenschap, Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen
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Popular Music
  • ISSN: 0261-1430
  • EISSN: 1474-0095
  • URL: /core/journals/popular-music
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