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“Superstar” economics – how the gramophone led to a winner-take-all dynamic in the performing industry. And innovations have created superstar economics in other sectors too.

“Superstar” economics – how the gramophone led to a winner-take-all dynamic in the performing industry. Elizabeth Billington was a British soprano in the 18th century. She was so famous, London’s two leading opera houses scrambled desperately to secure her performances. In 1801 she ended up singing at both venues, alternating between the two, and pulling in at least £10,000. A remarkable sum, much noted at the time. But in today’s terms, it’s a mere £687,000, or about a million dollars; one per cent of a similarly famous solo artist’s annual earnings today. What explains the difference? The gramophone. And, as Tim Harford explains, technological innovations have created “superstar” economics in other sectors too.

Producer: Ben Crighton
Editors: Richard Knight and Richard Vadon

(Image: Thomas Edison Phonograph, Credit: James Steidl/Shutterstock)

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9 minutes

Last on

Tue 28 Mar 2017 23:50GMT

Sources and related links

Alfred Marshall - Principles of Economics 1890, cited in Sherwin Rosen “The Economics of Superstars”, American Economic Review Vol 71.5 Dec 1981

Tim Brooks - Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919 University of Illinois Press 2004 p35

Sherwin Rosen - “The Economics of Superstars” American Economic Review Vol 71.5 Dec 1981

“The World’s Highest Paid Musicians of 2015” Forbes

The British Museum - Mrs Billington, as St Cecilia

Wikisource - Elizabeth Billington

“Oldest Recorded Voices Sing Again” BBC News 28 March 2008

“What a Nineteenth-Century English Soprano Can Teach Us About the Income Gap” - Penguin Press Blog

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  • Sat 25 Mar 2017 19:50GMT
  • Sun 26 Mar 2017 10:50GMT
  • Mon 27 Mar 2017 03:50GMT
  • Tue 28 Mar 2017 23:50GMT

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