Art and Entertainment


Music Pirates Also Buy Music, But Does Anyone Else?

April 23, 2009 05:30 PM
by Liz Colville
A BI Norwegian School of Management study found that among 2,000 Norwegians, those who download music illegally are also the ones purchasing most of it, raising questions about the people who are doing neither.

Study: P2P Downloaders 10 Times More Likely to Buy Music

Led by Professor Anne-Britt Gran, the study showed that “those who downloaded ‘free’ music—whether from lawful or seedy sources—were also 10 times more likely to pay for music,” The Guardian reported.

The findings suggest that what may have been considered two distinct groups of music lovers—the “[m]illions of internet do-gooders” who purchase digital music on sites like Amazon and iTunes, and the people who download free music, either legally or using peer-to-peer (P2P) sites—may actually be one and the same.
In deciphering the study, CNET’s Matt Asay proposes that consumers of music are simply being discerning. “People may be downloading songs in anticipation of buying those worth their 99 cents. In this way, most of the downloaded songs will never be followed by a click-to-purchase.”

Others are less convinced by the data in the study, noting that it is not available in English and that Norwegian press coverage of the story has been very roughly translated by English sources such as Ars Technica.

Further, overall music sales are declining even as digital music sales climb, which highlights an apparent lack of participation going on: Those who don’t care enough about music are neither stealing it nor purchasing it.

Longer-term analysis of people’s behavior is needed, the blogger and music critic Eric Harvey suggests. In such studies as this one, “[W]e limit the respondents’ voices to a binary discourse of ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’, when in reality, our behaviors rarely ever do the same.”

Meanwhile, the music industry has begun to covet the abundant, free-for-all atmosphere created by illegal music sites by offering music to companies like Nokia, which are packaging unlimited music downloads as part of cell phone service plans “so the cost to the consumer is disguised,” The New York Times reported in January.

Background: Previous evidence that P2P users also buy music

A 2006 study commissioned by the Canadian Record Industry Association polled 1,229 people over the age of 13 and found that among those who said they had downloaded music from the Internet, 36.4 percent of their music files were ripped from a CD collection and 32.6 percent were from file-sharing, or P2P services.

Notably, among those who said they had used such P2P sites, 21 percent said they had subsequently purchased files they downloaded “10 or more times,” 27 percent said they’d purchased between two and 10 times, and 25 percent said they had purchased less than twice. "The younger Canadians are, the more likely they are to believe downloading shared music is legal."

Opinion & Analysis: Music industry professionals skeptical of study

EMI’s Bjorn Rogstad suggested to Aftenposten, a Norwegian newspaper, that “the results make it seem like free downloads stimulate pay downloads, but there’s no way to know for sure,” Ars Technica paraphrased.

“[I] think much more interesting insight could be gleaned by talking to people about their practices, and observing their practices over time,” music critic and blogger Eric Harvey told Idolator. “[I] think we’d find out a lot about the ways in which everyday behavior [with regards to] music doesn’t always align with market-based discourses.”

“I doubt that many people deliberately want to steal music,” CNET’s Matt Asay says. “They simply don't want to buy in inconvenient formats (who wants a physical CD?), or they don't want to pay for casual listening to music that they really don't like enough to buy. So the download becomes the equivalent of listening to music over the radio.”

Scott Plagenhoef, the editor-in-chief of Pitchfork, said in a comment on Idolator that “the survey, its results (from what I’ve seen) and the discussions of it don’t seem to consider” that, perhaps, less and less people actually care about music. In other words, the non-downloaders are just as crucial to such studies as the downloaders.

Related Topic: The "pay what you wish" model

The bands Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails both used “pay what you wish” models for their most recent album releases, offering digital versions first, followed by CDs some weeks later. Recognizing the inevitability that their albums will leak before they are officially released, the bands in effect leaked the albums themselves.

Unlike Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails provided bonuses, such as artwork and a lossless digital format called FLAC, to fans that elected to pay for the digital version of his album “Ghost,” The Register reported.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines