Tag Archives: Radiohead

File-sharing down in the UK: It’s all in the business model

According to U.K.-based Music Ally, which describes itself as “the leading digital music business information and strategy company…since 2001,” a survey of 1000 music fans1 shows that “regular music filesharing amongst UK teenagers” has dropped by a third, and that a higher percentage are “obtaining their downloads via purchase.”

“We think the positive figures represent both greater takeup of legal streaming services among teens – in particular YouTube – and other competing ways of finding music for free such as CD burning and Bluetooth,” Music Ally’s site reports. (Currently Youtube’s offerings of majors’ songs are restricted due to a dispute between Youtube and PRS, Britains public performance rights society.)

The Guardian‘s report on the survey added this:

The research revealed that many teenagers (65%) are streaming music regularly, with more 14 to 18 year olds (31%) listening to streamed music on their computer every day compared with music fans overall (18%).

The picture may be more complex than a simple shift from filesharing to streaming, with people sharing music in new ways such as via bluetooth technology, on blogs, and through copying, also known as ripping content from friends’ MP3 devices.

But if these changes have occurred, it is easy to see why. The major record companies have spent most of their energy persecuting and prosecuting up- and downloaders. (This policy has been – temporarily? – suspended in the United States, but the majors are leaning on regulators across Europe to cut or slow down internet connections of people who download files.) Little effort was given to the task of understanding listening habits and bringing music online to reach the broadest number of consumers and listeners. A trickle of music to this or that service, and under onerous conditions to both online retailers and consumers (remember digital rights management?), was the best they could  muster.

It was this complete anti-marketing strategy which facilitated the growth of file-sharing.

In fact, what is happening is that people are discovering that streaming and buying from sites like iTunes is actually less time-consuming than illegal downloading. Even if you have a lot of time on your hands, if there is something you want, you don’t necessarily want to spend a lot of time doing it. It might seem to record executives that “everything” is readily available on sites like Pirate Bay, but this is far from the case.

Then there is the question of quality. A rip might come from a scratched CD or vinyl record (Radiohead’s Itch is an example), or be at an embarrassingly low bitrate only suitable for listening on a cheap pair of earphones (128 kbps is enough to strip out the production quality of most music), or be missing songs, or offer the songs out of order or without proper track titles so the downloader is left surfing to Amazon or allmusic to get the right information. Downloading from blogs has its own hazards, like that of malware being installed on your computer. This is all more time wasted.

And speaking of Radiohead’s Itch, why can I download this release from Pirate Bay, but not buy it from Amazon?

As the Dead Kennedys know, nothing beats convenience. The more quality downloads and streaming at competitive prices there are at the greatest number of online outlets, the more people will pay for downloads and streaming. It’s a pretty simple business model. The majors would be wise to follow it.


1Unfortunately neither Music Ally, nor The Leading Question, its research arm, provided details as to whether responders to the survey were chosen randomly, how many declined to participate or whether participants were self-selected. Nor were any other details of the survey or its degree of reliability released on Music Ally’s or The Leading Question’s respective websites.  Caveat emptor as to any conclusions.