Harvard University and North Carolina: Music Sharing Doesn’t Harm CD Sales

Harvard University and the University of North Carolina have just published what they claim to be the most detailed economic modelling survey using direct data from P2P networks. The report’s authors claim: “We find that file sharing has only had a limited effect on record sales. 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 survey used 17 weeks of logs from a pair of OpenNap servers in 2002, taking a random sample of 500 albums and comparing the sales of these albums in shops.

Record labels have seen sales of CD albums and singles fall dramatically in recent years, and are keen to blame this on P2P sharing and other illegal downloads. Could it be that the real reason is that people just have more things to spend their money on, and are less interested in buying CDs than they once were? DVD and video game sales have rocketed over the past five years – and there’s only a finite amount of cash in disposable incomes – so something has got to give somewhere.

The study seems to lend weight to the argument that downloading actually helps CD sales. “Participants could substitute downloads for legal purchases, thus reducing sales. Alternatively, file sharing allows users to learn about music they would not otherwise be exposed to. In the file sharing community, it is a common practice to browse the files of other users and to discuss music in file server chat rooms. This learning may promote new sales”, says the report.

The RIAA was quick to disagree: “Countless well-respected groups and analysts, including Edison Research, Forrester, and the University of Texas, among others, have all determined that illegal file sharing has adversely impacted the sales of CDs. Our own surveys show that those who are downloading more are buying less,” spokeswoman Amy Weiss said in a statement.

The report

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Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?