Pirates Are The Music Industry’s Most Valuable Customers

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Once again the music industry has come out with disappointing results for physical music sales, which they blame entirely on file-sharing. What they failed to mention though, is that their findings show that music pirates are buying more digital music than the average music consumer. Since digital music is the future, pirates are the industry's most valuable customers.

Have you ever heard one of the major movie studios complaining about the decrease in sales of VHS tapes? We haven’t. The music industry on the other hand continues to blame the decrease in physical sales on digital piracy, ignoring the fact that there’s a generation growing up that has never owned a physical CD.

Yesterday the music industry lobby group IFPI presented its 2009 figures, again putting the blame for decreased physical sales on file-sharers. Unfortunately, most mainstream media outlets simply reposted the IFPI press release and their flawed analysis. In general, no effort is made to actually balance out or check the message being sent out to millions of readers.

In their annual Digital Music Report, IFPI states that file-sharers are half as likely to buy physical CDs than the average music buyer. Although the report is about digital music, they carefully avoid saying anything about file-sharers and digital sales. That would actually show a completely different picture as we will explain below.

The music group made this statement based on an IFPI-commissioned study that was executed by Jupiter research. Although IFPI refused to share the entire research report with TorrentFreak, we can conclude the following from the two pages that were published online.

Compared to music buyers, music sharers (pirates) are…

* 31% more likely to buy single tracks online.
* 33% more likely to buy music albums online.
* 100% more likely to pay for music subscription services.
* 60% more likely to pay for music on mobile phone.

These figures (as reported by the music industry) clearly show that file-sharers buy more digital music than the average music buyer. In fact, the group that makes up the music buyers category actually includes the buying file-sharers, so the difference between music sharers and non-sharing music buyers would be even more pronounced.

How can this be true and why was there no mention of this in the Digital Music Report? They must be spending less on digital music then, right? But again, this is not the case at all. On average, file-sharers actually spend more than non-sharing music buyers. At least that’s what Mark Mulligan, Vice President and Research Director at Forrester Research who conducted the study for IFPI told us.

Mulligan has his hands tied and couldn’t say much about the findings without IFPI’s approval, but we managed to get confirmation that paying file-sharers are the music industry’s best customers. “A significant share of music buyers are file sharers also. These music buyers tend to be higher spending music buyers,” Mulligan told TorrentFreak.

So why do file-sharers download music without paying? According to the annual IFPI report, one of the main reasons people share music is because it’s free. This leads the music industry group to conclude that they are cheapskates and not willing to pay for music at all. But, as the above clearly shows, they are misinterpreting this finding, and we’d like to explain why.

In the digital age, people’s demand for music has changed significantly, but their budgets are still limited. The average file-sharer is currently spending $100 a year on music according to IFPI’s own research, not really a group that can be classified as freeloaders. However, their demand for music simply exceeds their budget and that’s where they start downloading music on file-sharing sites, because it’s free.

Just to be clear on our motivation to balance the ‘facts’ as reported by IFPI. We are not advocating that all music should be free and neither do most of the music lovers who share files online. However, the music industry continues to ignore that file-sharing is much more of a signal from the market that it is the increased demand for music that fuels piracy.

The solution to the problem is relatively easy. Start offering more unlimited and unrestricted music services and piracy will go into a free-fall. File-sharers are already paying for digital music, and they pay more than the average music consumer. File-sharing is simply a market signal showing that there is a need to compensate for the lack of high quality and affordable subscription services.

If anything, the music industry should have more respect for file-sharers, as they are their most valuable consumers. They are ahead of the curve and actually leading the way for the future of digital music, buying more digital music than anyone else. It’s the music industry that has to change, not the other way around.


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