Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Another survey from a company not employed by the RIAA offers yet more evidence that the 'illegal' downloaders are actually the people the record labels should be encouraging comes from The Leading Question:

People who illegally share music files online are also big spenders on legal music downloads, research suggests.

Digital music research firm The Leading Question found that they spent four and a half times more on paid-for music downloads than average fans.

It turns out the people who the RIAA claim to be destroying the industry spend an average of £5.52 a month on legal downloads, while the people who only download legal music spend a measly £1.27. In other words, the oft-quoted belief that people who spend time hammering kazaa and the like are genuine music nuts and thus likely to be spending all they can on music as well turns out to be, erm, true - and should be lauded, not treated as criminals:

"The research clearly shows that music fans who break piracy laws are highly valuable customers," said Paul Brindley, director of The Leading Question.

"It also points out that they are eager to adopt legitimate music services in the future."

"There's a myth that all illegal downloaders are mercenaries hell-bent on breaking the law in pursuit of free music."

In reality hardcore fans "are extremely enthusiastic" about paid-for services, as long as they are suitably compelling, he said.

So, how does the BPI react to the news that they're bringing legal action against their best customers? Sniffy, of course:

"It's encouraging that many illegal file-sharers are starting to use legal services," said BPI spokesman Matt Philips.

"But our concern is that file-sharers' expenditure on music overall is down, a fact borne out by study after study.

"The consensus among independent research is that a third of illegal file-sharers may buy more music and around two thirds buy less.

"That two-thirds tends to include people who were the heaviest buyers which is why we need to continue our carrot and stick approach to the problem of illegal file-sharing," he said.

You'll note there's a lot of deft footwork in this statement. First of all, the implication that illegal file-sharers are "starting" to use legal services - as if this is a trend that has only happened in the last couple of months - whereas, of course, early adopters of filesharing software are almost certain to have been the early adopters of legal downloads as well - people who hadn't previously been using online music would have taken more persuasion to come online to buy music, as they'd not only need to have tooled up with hardware and software, but to come to terms with the whole idea. The BPI, though, can't say this, because they need to pretend that the legal action is forcing criminals online.

The "concern" about file-sharer's expenditure on music being down is, of course, a real one. Could that be, though, because online you don't need to buy whole albums of music you don't want, but can just choose the tracks you like; that online music is a little bit cheaper than offline music; and that the price of CDs has been coming down as the various consumer's bodies start to catch up on the Record Labels years of overcharging and supermarkets start to cut margins. Or does the BPI really believe that anyone who doesn't increase their spend on its products year-on-year must be a criminal?

Then we've got a consensus, which sounds a bit bogus to us, and misses the point - maybe some file-sharers buy less music (than what? measured in terms of unit sales? Or total value?), but the point here is that filesharers spend more on music than anyone else - so, clearly, the BPI would rather sell a few pence worth of music to saints than pounds worth to enthusiasts. What this "consensus" also fails to explain is if the two-thirds supposedly buying an undefined "less" of music are dropping so far as to offset the massively increased profits labels make from digital distribution compared with the physical version, and, much more crucially, if they're buying less because they're being satiated by illegal music, or just because they find other things to spend their money on while they're online - pvc trousers, belt buckles and so on.

And finally, that shaky consensus is suddenly pummeled into a conclusion we've never seen before, that the "heaviest buyers" are buying less music - but again, that could be because music is cheaper online, and if you can't make a massive saving buying lots of albums online, you're in a little bit of trouble.

The BPI: We'll finish looking in this gift horse's mouth once we've killed the golden-egg laying goose.


if said...

Could it not just as easily be the case that in general the 'genuine music nuts', when they do buy music, would still rather pay more for CDs (or buy them cheap second hand, whatever) than use the legal services with their lack of wide choice and hobbling DRM?
Whereas more people already happy listening to lower quality MP3s and getting lots of music online are likely to extend this to when they buy music legally?

I'm not trying to say that it isn't the case that people who download illegally buy more music as a result, or that suing/copy protection isn't a ridiculous solution, but this particular narrow survey hardly seems the most conclusive proof. The increased profit from digital sales could be an interesting factor if someone did actually do a full survey of music buying habits though.

tsncentre said...

I'd buy more music online and in mp3 format if it was actually available but as we see time and time again, it's not. I'd be surprised if the major music purchasers were those who bought the latest chart music.

achong hok lian said...

Thank you, your article is very good

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