Thursday, April 05, 2007

Why They Download Illegally

From KCRW's (Santa Monica) On the Beat

PART I March 28, 2007
This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Last week, Mitch Bainwol, the CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, or the RIAA, and Cary Sherman, its President, wrote an opinion piece for Inside Higher Ed, a magazine for those working in academia. The piece was an attempt to explain why the RIAA continued its steady stream of litigation against college students for the illegal downloading of music.

In the article, Bainwol and Sherman explained the various ways they've tried to appeal to students to curb illegal downloading. They justified their lawsuits as a last resort, telling universities that the students had been given alternative options and fair warning before the lawsuits were issued.

The RIAA has done its job informing the public about illegal downloading. But in many ways, they have failed terribly. Illegal downloading is at an all time high and I'm certain serving lawsuits to music loving college student is not the solution. Over a billion tracks are now freely traded every month on the Internet here in America, according to Big Champagne, the Internet-monitoring service. There seems to be a huge disconnect between the record industry and the illegal down loaders.

The Internet has exponentially changed how most businesses operate, why should the record business be any different? If so many people want to get their music from open, digital systems like BitTorrent and Gnutella, perhaps the record industry should change its model of selling and distributing music.

But before anything shifts, there’s still important dialogue needed. The industry has relied too long on research companies to analyze digital downloading. What happens when the labels speak to the down loaders themselves?

KCRW reaches into the population of Los Angeles, and through the Internet, to places far beyond. Statistically, there have to be plenty of folks listening right now, who are comfortable downloading their music illegally. I want to ask those people, why? Is it simply the notion of getting something for free? Or an act of convenience? Has Digital Rights Management or other limiting code on music files forced this action and if so, how has it affected you? Or is it a political act against a company or group of companies? Are you still willing to buy music and if so, has your downloading affected how much music you buy?

Whatever the reasons, I want to understand, without judgments. There is a real problem in the record industry and we’re only just beginning to see the effects. If a positive experience is to result, solutions should include all the passionate voices of those who love music.

So now is your opportunity to speak your truth. Please feel free to write me at, I'll gather the results and report anonymously on the findings in the next few weeks.

All correspondence will be treated as confidential.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

***** PART II April 4, 2007 *****

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Last week, I asked KCRW radio listeners who downloaded music files illegally to tell me what motivated their actions. I received dozens of letters in response.

One thing is clear. Those that responded love music and seek a strong personal connection with it in their lives. Almost all took the time to articulate in detail why they chose to download illegally on a regular basis.

There is not one simple answer to the question posed. Respondents felt accessibility and convenience were primary considerations. Most wanted to download music files easily from an open source, and to audit the whole song without making a financial commitment first. Though they did so illegally, many were quick to point out that most of the music they downloaded was not satisfying, and they never listened to the tracks again. In their mind, purchasing those files would have been a waste of money.

It's an understandable problem. Back in the 60's, commercial radio play lists were more adventurous and generated the majority of record sales. In addition, a lot of record stores had turntables so customers could play any record before they bought it. But in the 70's, this service of auditioning music fell by the wayside and for the next 20 years, most stores offered very little. There is a lot of backlash from those days as many respondents feel like record labels had ripped them off, buying albums that only had one or two good songs on them. In the 90's, when in-store listening stations came into vogue, the consumer could hear some music beforehand, but only a limited selection. Simultaneously, local radio began tightening their play lists, making it far more difficult for consumers to find new music. Nowadays, with commercial play lists as tight as they are, consumers listen online before purchasing.

Another major factor in illegal downloading was pricing. Most who responded felt that digital files were overpriced.

That's also interesting, given the iTunes news this week. On Monday, iTunes and EMI Records announced a new pricing structure for EMI digital files, to be launched in May. These new files will have no rights management code or DRM attached and will have enhanced audio quality. Customers who previously purchased EMI music files on iTunes will have the opportunity to upgrade their collection for the cost of 30¢ a song. Otherwise, the new files will cost consumers $1.29. The enhanced files will be available along side traditional files on iTunes for customers to choose.

I'm afraid some of my respondents will not be impressed with the new iTunes announcement. Only a couple of listeners complained about the DRM code on music files, and practically everyone complained about the high prices online. Adding 30¢ more will probably not turn these illegal downloaders around.

What is clear is that record labels need to stop trying to rebuild their outdated business model and instead try to respond to the lifestyle needs of their customer base. With or without DRM, labels still need to address hardware interoperability, lower pricing and music auditing to win back some of their most loyal fans.

Music is a part of everyone's life, but the record business is not. Labels should never overestimate their importance, and should open their eyes to why their customers are getting music elsewhere.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

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