How Downloads Have Changed the Music Industry

There’s no doubting that the internet, with its plethora of ways to download music, has changed the face of the music industry for good. Whether it’s legal downloads changing the format of the singles chart or illegal torrents and peer-to-peer programmes that allow users access to music they’re not entitled to, things have changed rapidly since the world wide web has become a fixture in almost every house and office in the country.

This illegal distribution of music has been a major bugbear for many in the industry, who claim this action is killing the music scene. Based on the idea that every song downloaded is a lost sale, they reckon that many singers, songwriters and top level bosses are missing out on a lot of potential earnings.

Recent figures show that there are at least 7 million people in the UK downloading music illegally – although this is thought to be a very conservative estimate – and the shared content on one network alone was found to be worth more than £12bn.

According to industry insiders, that is £12bn of lost revenue which leads to poorer artists and many job losses. The maths, however, simply doesn’t add up. The people who download illegally would not go to the shops and buy those songs because – statistically – they simply can’t afford to do so.

The problems started in 1999 when Napster – or its users, at least – was quickest to realise that the internet could be used to proliferate music. The record labels lagged behind, trying to find the best way to monetise the system, and by the time they reacted downloaders were used to getting their music for free and were reluctant to give up that option.

The other problem is that people have other things to spend their entertainment budgets on. A £10 CD might only have two good songs – the ones heard on the radio – while the rest of the album is made up of filler. A new console game will likely be around £40 and will offer weeks, if not months, of entertainment. Figures from the last five years show that while overall spending on music has gone down, sales of games have risen dramatically – even with troubles such as chipped consoles offering players a way to get free games. DVDs, normally similarly priced to CDs and also facing a spate of illegal downloads, have also seen a rise in sales and rentals in recent years.

Many artists, however, are in favour of letting people download music as it allows a wider audience to hear their work and means they can get fans in countries that otherwise wouldn’t discover them. Many also acknowledge that even if someone downloads illegally, they often do this as a way to sample and try out new music, and if they really like it they’ll look for a way to buy it.

Daniel Collins writes on a number of topics on behalf of a digital marketing agency and a variety of clients. As such, this article is to be considered a professional piece with business interests in mind.

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