Monday, June 16, 2008

Good news for the music industry

At long last, it seems the music industry has finally won its battle against copyright theft: a new survey has discovered that taping music off the radio has almost entirely been eradicated.

There's little else for the industry to be cheered by, though, in the University of Hertfordshire conducted for Fergal Sharkey's lot, the British Music Rights body:

[O]f an average 1,700 tracks stored by the 90 percent in the age range who own MP3 players, 842 (almost half) have not been paid for. "Young people 14-17 have not paid for the majority of music in their collection."

Actually, if only almost half of the collection isn't free, then haven't these people paid for the majority of the music?

And it shouldn't be forgotten that 'not paying for' music isn't quite the same thing as 'obtaining illegally'. Preview mp3s, free tracks, try-before-you-buy offerings - there's lots of ways to fill an mp3 player without breaking the rules.

Having said which, they break the rules:
-- 95 percent of people copy music in some fashion, with 58 percent copying from a friend's hard drive for example.
-- 63 percent download music from P2P networks and 42 percent have allowed others to take their own tracks via the same method, with most thinking they are doing a good deed.
-- People download an average 53 illegal tracks per month via P2P, though some respondents said they bagged up to 5,000 tracks per month.

Personally, if the average number of tracks in the respondent's collection was 1,700, we'd be tempted to play down the importance of people claiming to bag 5,000 tracks a month. And, more importantly, logic suggests that someone adding 60,000 tracks to their music player every year isn't going to be listening to them all - so they hardly represent lost sales of music.

British Music Rights is a little less swivel-eyed than the BPI, so they're able to see the positive aspects of the survey:
Feargal Sharkey, Chief Executive of British Music Rights: “The music industry should draw great optimism from this groundbreaking survey. First and foremost, it is quite clear that this young and tech-savvy demographic is as crazy about and engaged with music as any previous generation. Contrary to popular belief, they are also prepared to pay for it too. But only if offered the services they want. That message comes through loud and clear.

“These responses also pull no punches in highlighting how dramatically music consumption has changed, and continues to change; certainly in the case of copying, sharing and recommendation.

“Technology has greatly increased the value of these activities – but it is clear that the financial gains are not necessarily feeding back to the creators: artists, composers and songwriters. How the music industry repositions itself here, and builds new mutually-beneficial commercial partnerships with technology providers remains the key challenge ahead.”

Naturally, you wouldn't expect a rights-fixated body to start from any other position than to assume that there must be value involved - nobody who currently earns a crust from the music industry is going to ask the awkward and alarming question of if there is any financial value in having people listen to your music on an MP3 player - and until someone does, most of these surveys are missing the point somewhat.

We're also a little puzzled by the first bullet point in the press release:
14-24 year olds love music – arguably more than any previous generation

How, exactly, does one set about proving that scientifically - and if it's just a gut feeling, then does it really have any place in this academic paper? I have nothing against 14 to 24 year-olds, but I seriously doubt if they could be loving music any more than my generation did. Especially since we had less other distractions to lavish our affections on.


Anonymous said...

"14-24 year olds love music – arguably more than any previous generation"

I think they're saying this to justify their terrible arguments. If they take the total amount of music a person possesses on their hard drive rather than the total they paid for then, yes obviously some kid today is going to have more than we had back then. If they equate that quantity with enjoyment (i.e. they have more music than you had at the same age therefore they enjoy it more) then it means they're free to argue the old every single song you download and don't pay for is a lost sale nonsense. Something tells me that without the internet the kids today would have exactly the same amount of music as we did.

Anonymous said...

The main difference is that pop/rock now is the establishment culture whereas it wasn't then. So young people now may well enjoy music as much as any previous generation, but it is probably less *special* to them, less different from other things they encounter. That's nothing to do with the internet - it was inevitable as soon as the boomers took control of the national institutions.

Mikey said...

Fergal Sharkey, former lead singer of the Undertones and now chief executive of British Music Rights, said: “I was one of those people who went around the back of the bike shed with songs I had taped off the radio the night before. But this totally dwarfs that, and anything we expected.” (

So what you're saying Feargal is 'I would have been downloading MP3s all the time too, if the technology had been available. I might yet, if I weren't getting all my CDs for free these days..'

Anonymous said...

"The main difference is that pop/rock now is the establishment culture whereas it wasn't then. So young people now may well enjoy music as much as any previous generation, but it is probably less *special* to them, less different from other things they encounter."

I think that's a bit unfair. If you ask the majority of people in their late 40s/early 50s if they like music they'll say yes and then go on to tell you their favourite album is "Best of the Beatles" and that Wings were only the band that... well you get the drift. I don't think it's fair to say that music is any less special to people who love it now that it was to people who loved it 50 years ago and avoided the commercialisation of "teen" back then and I doubt that there's any difference between the number of people loving it now than loving it in the past. In fact I often hear kids singing "I'm loving it.." oh wait... oh I see. Dear oh dear.


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