Friday, April 14, 2006


Following on from our fun with the figures released by the BPI last week - which contained the discovery that each court case discourages an average of less than a 1000 downloaders, the Guardian tech supplement featured some math by Mark Mulligan which focused closer on the claims of downloading costing the UK Music industry £1.1bn:

Mulligan is unimpressed: "The BPI should (a) know better than to infer that consumer survey data is national market revenue data; (b) accept there are many bigger reasons impacting on declining music sales - prices too high, physical piracy, competing expenditure on DVDs and games consoles, and so on."

He points out only 10% of UK internet users are file sharers, or just 5% of the UK population. If they were responsible for all that lost spending, they must have been very big spenders to have left a £1.1bn hole in the music business. "But they're not," Mulligan said this week. "They tend to be young and on low incomes. Physical piracy and the competition from games and DVDs is far more important."

In addition, Mulligan has trouble with the contention that £1.1billion has gone from the UK music industry at all. Since the drop in sales between 2002 and 2005 has come in at less than a fifth of a billion quid, where's the other 810 million gone, he asks?

The problem is, of course, that the BPI doesn't just see lost sales and count them - they like to count potential lost sales as well. For them, the old adage that "what you've never had, you've never missed" doesn't hold true at all. You might come across a copy of the theme tune to unloved Southern TV sitcom Take A Letter, Mr. Jones, and download it to revive memories of the episode in which John Inman's character rustled up an "exotic fish dish" for visiting Japanese businessmen. To the BPI, they see that as 79p you've not spent on a legal download, or £4 you've not spent on a CD. They either don't understand, or choose to ignore, that you downloaded it because it was there and free, that if someone had come up and asked you for cash in return for the song, you wouldn't have bothered anyway; and that you certainly hadn't gone out looking for the TV theme, and made a choice to go for the free option rather than a paid-for one.

It's the BPI's choice to assume that each free download replaces a paid-for one that leads to their repeated choice to make fools of themselves with press releases insisting that gadzillions of pounds are being stolen.

It's like the pen industry claiming that those free biros you get from charities are ruining their industry, because if it wasn't for the free papery pens you get from them, you'd go to buy a jewel-encrusted fountain pen when you wanted to write a letter to the milkman.