Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in t: By Steve Knopper, 301 pgs.

May 04, 2010

This is a compelling account of the downward spiral the corporate music industry has been in since the post-disco crash of the late 1970s. The financial booms are all cataloged—from MTV and Michael Jackson to the boy band craze—but they’re sprinkled throughout the in-depth accounts of regressive thinking from music executives as well as descriptions of the absurd expense accounts given to moguls while artists were paid pennies per record sold.

The most interesting part of this book is that industry executives are always referred to by name, and about midway through the book, you truly get an understanding of how small a world the music industry is. The same people are referenced throughout as big decision makers (usually making the wrong decisions) over the course of two decades, and the big players in the industry become concrete characters in the book, fully developed outside of the archetypes most readers will want to put them in.

The book also gives very in-depth descriptions of the technology that has changed music forever, including how the CD was developed and exactly where the technology for Napster came from. Knopper does a great job of presenting the Napster case fairly and pointing out mistakes both parties made, but goes into detail about the mistakes the industry made over and over again by rejecting the technology instead of trying to find ways to make deals and monetize it immediately.

Knopper is a seasoned music journalist and used his experience and contacts to make sure this book came out right. His conversational writing is complemented by constant specifics and quotes from sources. All quotes and references are tediously detailed. This is a compelling read for anyone remotely interested in music business, and if you hate the music industry but don’t really know why, you should probably read this. –Ian Wise (Soft Skull)