Filesharing – The Terrible Truth!

“While downloads occur on a vast scale, most users are likely individuals who would not have bought the album even in the absence of file sharing,” the professors wrote.

In an interview, Professor Oberholzer-Gee said that previous research assumed that every download could be thought of as a lost sale. In fact, he said, most downloaders were drawn to free music and were unlikely to spend $18 on a CD.

“Say I offer you a free flight to Florida,” he asks. “How likely is it that you will go to Florida? It is very likely, because the price is free.” If there were no free ticket, that trip to Florida would be much less likely, he said. Similarly, free music might draw all kinds of people, but “it doesn’t mean that these people would buy CD’s at $18,” he said.(Source NY Times)

Finally, someone is challenging the bullshit war that the RIAA, BPI and other bastions of multinational capital are waging against music sharing on the internet.

Note that I don’t consider those institutions to be protectors of my income.

I’m a professional musician: around 99% of my income is from selling my musical work, whether that’s as CDs or through airplay (the other 1% is from photography and DJing, which are pretty much grand hobbies).

Am I quivering like some pussy out of Metallica at the vista of net filesharing?


Because I know the professors are right. Filesharing now is just a super-posh version of the cassettes I used to trade with my mates as a kid. And yes, I also remember the forever-stupid industry wading in then, with it’s ridiculous ‘Home Taping Is Killing Music’ campaign. I’ve got a slew of vinyl albums with the moronic logo stamped on the paper sleeves.

I made tapes, I got tapes. If I fancied someone, I’d spend hours slaving over the perfect C60 or (if she was really fit) C90. Most of the tracks were from my own record collection, given away for free through love of music (and girls).

Did the tapes I got from mates stop me from going out and buying those band’s records? Nope. Because… I didn’t like most of them that much anyway. It was just a way for us to swap info about bands and genres, getting interested in wider ranges of music than you could hear on daytime radio. If anything, I’d go out and buy the album if I heard one track I liked.

And it’s the same now. Yeah, there are places you can download four Pantera albums in one go (and I’m not telling where they are, Kopyright Kops) but the vast majority of filesharing is of individual tracks.

This is now how I discover new music. I’ve given up completely on the music papers and radio – they have nothing for me. They’ll cover a band three or four months after I’ve bought the bloody album. Well, it’s hard to keep up for them, innit? After all, they only get all their records for free? Still… I digress…

Here’s some of the artists whose albums I’ve gone and bought after downloading one or two tracks:

Ulrich Schnauss
Eyedea & Abilities
Pace Won
Jedi Mind Tricks
Russian Futurists

I can hear the naysayers now: I’m buying those albums cos I’m a fan, downloaders won’t do that.

Yep, that’s right! But people who aren’t music fans wouldn’t suddenly start buying the reams of tracks they’ve been downloading for free if filesharing was stopped.

But hey – don’t just take my anecdotal evidence, here’s what the Prof says:

“Downloads have an effect on sales which is statistically indistinguishable from zero, despite rather precise estimates,” write its authors, Felix Oberholzer-Gee of the Harvard Business School and Koleman S. Strumpf of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”(Source NY Times)

Megacorp Mulitnational Inc. have already tried to rubbish this study, despite its methodology being far more sound than the survey-based ones they tout as “proof.”

As their final riposte, they ask why else CD sales are falling? Oooh, shot yourselves in both feet there! How about?:

> People aren’t rebuying everything on CD they had on vinyl. Although I’m sure the industry is dreaming up new formats to bolster sales. Hello DVD-A, SACD!

> There’s less new music available through mainstream channels. I don’t know about the US, but here in Britain, we haven’t got anything in the mass media that regularly airs new, independent music (and I mean mass, not hidden away at 3am). All we get is major label-endorsed fodder. Safe, bland… TV shows like Snub and The Tube now seem like fantasy dreams.

> Mainstream records are more shite nowadays. This last point is probably just the result of me being a grumpy old bloke. But why is 90% of everything I buy on tiny labels? It didn’t used to be, that’s for sure. If you serve shite up to the record buying masses, are you really surprised when they don’t buy it? Pop Idol? Riveting TV, goddamned terrible records.

Maybe, being a touch paranoid, the majors don’t care if I’m buying new bands on new little labels, they’re getting no money from those sales. But now, because of the internet, those tiny labels and bands can be heard in the same arena as bands who have millions pissed away on them before their first release.

Surely if filesharing is costing sales, so is radio, so is TV? Isn’t each play on the radio equivalent to one lost sale? Perhaps the RIAA should ban all dissemination of music apart from FBI-controlled listening posts where you have to have your retina scanned before you can hear this week’s porridge-faced boyband?

This I do know: if all the music filesharing stopped dead next week, there wouldn’t be a huge comcomitant upsurge in record sales.

Only a fool (or an industry PR) would tell you otherwise.


After typing the above rant half-asleep and fully-angry last night, I received this comment from a colleague of mine this morning:

“Mr. Mishra,

I found the professor’s study interesting, but I failed to be enlightened as it is simply common sense. However I’m pleased someone academic has finally committed the obvious to paper. I especially enjoyed the almost ‘hitch-hikers guide’ mathematics of “Downloads have an effect on sales which is statistically indistinguishable from zero.”

I personally (as you know) think file-sharing is the best thing that has ever happened to music. It has made a distant and often inaccessible industry easy to handle. i think going into a HMV or Virgin is like going to a car showroom, there is too much pressure and what if you buy something unfashionable? You have the staff smirking at you. What if you get it wrong? What if NME didn’t get their comparison to other artists correct and it’s nothing like the MC5s? What if you don’t know what the MC5s sound like?

Thank you.

Matthew Richard Swan”

Another good point!