Mind the gap

Idols are a big reason for Japan’s enduring attachment to the CD and the stores that sell them. But perhaps the biggest cause is its aging population.

Among the most popular artists of 2016 are Arashi, a boy band in its 17th year of existence, and the 47-year-old artist Masaharu Fukuyama. The fans for these bands tend to be older and have more money to spend, and they are buying music by artists they grew up with.

That’s a trend in many countries, Mulligan says, but Japan’s population is exceptionally old, and so that’s where its spending power and consumer demand are concentrated—not among the teenagers or young adults who are more comfortable with digital downloads and streaming services.

Still, over the last few years, even Japan’s music industry has been moving towards digital.

Japan’s consumer behavior is finally changing, with a surge of interest in online shopping (paywall); online retailers made sales worth nearly $90 billion in 2015, compared to $33 billion in 2009.

Just like Darwin’s finches on Galapagos, when introduced to a new ecosystem, Japan’s consumers will start adapting to it. The convenience of digital music will sooner or later trump the love of physical objects. And, yet, whenever that happens, Japan’s history shows that it will probably happen in its own unique way.

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