An Economic Analysis of Copyright and Culture in the Information Age
Chapter 4: The Earnings of Singers: An Economic Analysis
* INTRODUCTION This chapter is based on my study of the singing profession in Britain, which deals with classically trained singers. As far as I know, this is the only study of the market for singers, though singers’ earnings have been separately identified in studies by Throsby (1986) and Santos (1976). The earnings of artists of all types have been the subject of important national studies by Filer (1986) in the USA and Throsby (1986) in Australia; these and other earnings studies have shown that there is considerable variance in artists’ earnings, as indeed there is in other professions. What I do in this chapter is to review explanations of the variation in earnings and relate these specifically to the singing profession in Britain, looking at the role of institutional factors; in particular, the ‘superstar’ theory is considered and I attempt to offer an alternative explanation of skewness in the distribution of singers’ earnings, which better fits the real world workings of the labour market for singers. EXPLANATIONS OF SKEWNESS IN THE DISTRIBUTION OF EARNINGS In Book 1, Chapter 10 of The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith addressed the question of why earnings vary between different occupations. In a famous passage on ‘the exorbitant rewards of players, opera-singers, opera-dancers etc.’ he suggested that the rarity of talent and the discredit of employing them in ‘public prostitution’ accounted for their high earnings, predicting (wrongly, as it has turned out) that if public opinion with respect to the discredit of such occupations should...
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