Why Pirates Buy More Music and Music Labels Fail

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A handful of studies have shown that those who download music illegally actually buy more through legal channels. But why? Are pirates really this generous or could it be that this is just a side-effect of the failing music industry?

In the past we’ve documented studies that showed how the majority of artists sell more music thanks to piracy and that those who download (more) also buy more. Last week another study was added to this ever growing list, arguing that pirates are 10 times more likely to buy music than those who don’t.

So why do pirates buy more music? The simplest explanation for this finding might be that people who are not interested in music don’t have the need to pirate or buy it. I have to agree that it’s not the the sexiest, most controversial or inspiring answer, but it does tell us something about the core of the piracy ‘problem’.

The real reason is in fact very simple. The true music enthusiasts simply want to consume, sample and discover as much new music as they possibly can, and the most straightforward and convenient way to do this is through file-sharing networks. Music pirates are just regular consumers really, and they love music just as much as anyone else.

Music fans share more.


Although I personally believe that the ability to sample music through file-sharing has a positive effect on music sales, much of the correlation between piracy and sales is simply caused by a third factor – a passion for music. This is one of the main reasons why most users of music oriented BitTorrent sites love an initiative such as Spotify where they have access to one of the largest music libraries online.

Although piracy can breed consumers, it’s generally happens the other way around. The Internet has freed music and the music labels’ greed and abuse of copyright is the only barrier that stands between the artists and millions of potential fans. Creative business models where consumers have instant access to unprotected and high quality music are the future.

The labels of course fail to see this all too obvious connection and continue to exploit their acquired (copy)rights.They would rather pump yet more millions into overpaid pro-copyright lobbyists and expensive lawyers trying to keep their outdated business model alive – the model where the artist gets 1 to 10% of the total music sales while the labels are filling their pockets. No wonder the passionate music fans flee to BitTorrent.

What we can learn from the studies is that true music fans buy and pirate more music. The labels are fighting against those who generate a large chunk – perhaps even the largest – of their yearly revenue. The labels should understand that piracy is merely a signal that they are on the wrong track.

The Internet makes it possible to offer unlimited access to music cheaply with virtually no production and distribution costs. Unlimited access is exactly what most consumers want. It’s an opportunity not a threat.


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