In a digital age defined by iTunes, Pandora, and widespread file-sharing, many in the music world have argued that the once-flush industry should shift its focus from record sales to live performances that fans could never replicate online.

But proponents of this strategy received some bad news Tuesday: ticket sales dropped 12 percent in the U.S. this year, according to the trade publication Pollstar. In a tough economic climate, older acts like Bon Jovi, AC/DC, and U2 boasted the world's highest grossing concert tours.

How will the music industry respond?

  • High Ticket Prices and Demographics Jeopardized Concerts, argues Ethan Smith at The Wall Street Journal. Concert revenue grew in eight of the last nine years primarily because rising ticket prices compensated for flat sales, he explains, though promoters like Live Nation did offer last-minute discounts. But many in the industry warned that "if fans' tolerance for rising prices were to wane," as it appears to have in 2010, "the gravy train could grind to a halt." Smith adds that the industry, faced with "a thin crop of young superstars," is leaning on "aging but tried-and-true acts," prompting some to complain that the music business "does a poor job of grooming new young acts that can fill arenas."
  • Expect Lower Ticket Prices in 2011, notes Ryan Nakashima at the Associated Press: "Rather than charge lots early and offer discounts later, some promoters say they'll offer cheaper tickets from the start, partly because they know fans will spend as much as usual on beer and tchotchkes when they arrive."
  • What Will Lower Prices Mean for All Stakeholders? asks Jacob Ganz at NPR. Musicians will take the biggest hit and may cut back on concert theatrics or not tour at all, he predicts, but those who charge less for performances might gain loyal fans. Venues may come out even because they'll get more bodies in the door and get a cut of the alcohol and t-shirts those additional concertgoers buy, while promoters could be more risk-averse in booking tours. And what about fans?

If your idea of happiness is seeing a band that tours constantly in a slightly smaller venue than it played in the last time it came through town, for significantly less money, 2011 could plaster a perma-smile onto your face.

  • Lower Ticket Prices Won't Apply to Everyone, cautions Matthew Perpetua at Rolling Stone: "Deep discounts will mostly apply to artists who are having a hard time selling out large venues. Ticket prices for hot acts such as Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, who currently have no trouble selling out arenas--or Taylor Swift, who now sells out stadiums--within hours of going on sale, will continue to be fairly high."