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Does Piracy Increase Sales?

02:01 PM Thursday 4/23/09 | |

Do people who illicitly download songs via peer-to-peer file sharing networks buy more music than those who have never grabbed a torrent or searched for tunes through LimeWire?

That’s what a study by the BI Norwegian School of Management is hinting at, saying people downloading infringing music also buy about 10 times more music than their law-abiding counterparts, according to Oslo newspaper Aftenposten.

But does that mean music pirates are also the recording industry’s best customers? Maybe. Maybe not.

On the “maybe side” you have P2P proponents citing the school’s study as another example proving copyright-infringing song sharing promotes sales. Ever since Shawn Fanning came up with Napster, those promoting song sharing at the expense of the record labels, publishers and artists have claimed all those downloads will pay off in the end because the downloaders only “sample” the music, and will ultimately buy what they enjoy listening to.

However, those on the “maybe not” side of the argument contend the survey only establishes folks who pirate a lot of music also buy a lot of music. As an EMI representative pointed out, that doesn’t mean one thing necessarily leads to another.

It might be safer to assume that those who pirate a lot of songs as well as regularly purchase a hefty number of tunes are people who really love music.

Even before P2P piracy became a problem for the music industry, major music fans were often the same ones who scanned classified ads in music magazines for unauthorized bootlegs. They were also the ones who spent a good amount of time taping albums purchased by their friends, concerts off of the radio and even those albums-in-entirety radio programs that used to be so popular in the ’70s and ’80s.

In fact, one of the reasons the original Napster was seen by the labels as threatening the entire recording industry is because it introduced casual music consumers – those who rarely go looking for new music, and often buy only “the hits” heard on radio – to music piracy.

If anything, the BI Norwegian School of Management Study reminds us how much the music business has changed during the last 15 years. The old dynamic was centered around labels relying on radio to introduce new music. Today people discover new music through online streamers like Rhapsody, inexpensive downloads from Amazon MP3 and iTunes, social networking sites, and yes, P2P song-sharing, both legal and not.

While the BI Norwegian School of Management says its study indicates folks who pirate a lot of music also buy a lot of music, it also suggests the reverse – those who buy a lot of music also pirate a lot of music.

Which means, after years of the recording industry pushing the “piracy is stealing” meme to the public, that concept still hasn’t sunk in among those who really love to listen to music. That’s hardly good news for the labels. Or, for that matter, anyone who depends on music to pay the bills.

Please click here to read the Aftenposten article (translated to English by Google).


  1. astan51 wrote:

    08:34 AM, Apr 24, 2009

    if it was not for free music or download, there would be many artist that would never get my ears attention. the digital age has made it possible for me to find more and more artists.

  2. DeliciousJoe wrote:

    05:58 PM, Apr 23, 2009

    I agree with the other comments. I would, however, like to disagree with the author of the article on his last comment

    "Which means, after years of the recording industry pushing the “piracy is stealing” meme to the public, that concept still hasn’t sunk in among those who really love to listen to music. That’s hardly good news for the labels. Or, for that matter, anyone who depends on music to pay the bills.

    I would argue that the "stealing" of music helps much of the people who depend on music to make a living. The large majority of musicians, record labels, producers, etc aren't the multi-millionaires. The biggest problem that most people in the industry have is trying to get their music out to the public. These artists make their living doing live shows and they realize that in order to get people to the show, you have to allow them to have their music...for free. Gone are the days of making millions selling records, cassettes, CDs, or even digital downloads. Artists today need to realize that industry is not going to be a place to make millions. Instead, it will be a place where they can make a comfortable living performing for crowds and doing what they love.

  3. Anonymous wrote:

    03:33 PM, Apr 23, 2009

    i agree with the things angie said. if it wasn't for "illegally" giving things a trial run, i probably would have never spent money on new music. if i don't like it, i don't buy it. but if i do, then i will more than likely drop more money in to an artist either through buying their records, merch, concert tickets, tips at said concerts, etc. i do understand how it hurts the industry, i can see the domino effect of not buying anything... but tough ish. it's 2009, the internet will keep growing and you can't stop it.

  4. Anonymous wrote:

    03:02 PM, Apr 23, 2009

    When I started using Napster, my catalog opened up A LOT. There was new music everywhere and I could hear it all free.... then go out and buy it if I really liked it.

    I don't think that P2P networks are a fail for the music industry, because had it not been for file sharing programs like Napster and LimeWire, I would not be buying a lot of the music that I buy now. Especially now that most of those networks are littered with viruses and fake files. Not to mention that I think I've been to more concerts of bands that I've heard off of P2P networks/Myspace where I'm not purchasing anything, than mainstream shows of artists I have bought music from.

    It's such a toss-up to hear an album after you already purchase it, and then if you don't like it you' may just resubmit it to the record store to resell for much cheaper. I don't know the legalities and formalities of reselling music through a distributor, but does the music industry get any portion of that $5.99 after Rasputin, or whoever, resells an album that originally sold for double or more?

    Just take comfort in knowing that you're richer than most, record companies and Lars Ulrich.