Not sharing, but streaming

Not so long ago, I wrote a blog piece – you can read it here – concerning some research from the States suggesting that downloads and file-sharing were slowing down, at least among the teenage music market.

OK, so posting it on April 1 may not have been the smartest move, and several of you suggested it may have been an April Fool story. But now new research carried out in the UK suggests the music industry's nightmare – endless teens in bedrooms grabbing music online and sharing not just with friends by the whole internet community – may be running out of steam.

Too late, Lord Carter, too late...
A new survey, by media and technology research agency The Leading Question and digital music information and strategy company Music Ally, shows that the file-sharing threat, identified in the recent Digital Britain report as yet another thing the Government needs to Take Very Seriously, is changing. And doing so faster than reports compiled over many months, peer-reviewed and open for public comment, can track.

It seems less of us are sharing files illegally, with a particular drop among teens, and more of us are using services such as Spotify, MySpace and YouTube to stream the music we want to hear, rather than bothering to store it anywhere at all.

Overall, the number of us file-sharing has fallen from 22% at the end of 2007 to 17% at the beginning of this year, while among 14-18-year-olds this is down from 42% to just 26%.

By contrast, 65% of those 14-18s stream music online regularly, and while 18% of all music fans say they listen to streamed music once every day, that rises to 31% among the teens.

Singles, not albums
And while more people overall share albums rather than buying legal downloads, more of us buy single tracks online rather than getting them via file-sharing.

Maybe that bears out the theory suggested in that report I commented on back in April, that many teens think they already have as much music as they can handle in their collections, and prefer to listen to streaming services, only downloading the odd track here and there when it really grabs their attention.

Whatever the psychology behind it, it's clear that by the time the Government decides to implement the measures suggested in the Digital Britain report, the caravan will have moved on and most of the strategy will be irrelevant.

Less pirated tracks

After all, the Leading Question survey shows that the ratio of pirated tracks to legally-bought downloads has halved in just a year. In its December 2007 survey four tracks were file-shared for every one downloaded and paid for; by the beginning of this year, the ratio was just two dodgy downloads to every kosher one.

And that means much of the Digital Britain digital management plan could, in a couple of years, be perfectly poised to tackle head-on a problem that no longer exists...

Andrew has written about audio and video products for the past 20+ years, and been a consumer journalist for more than 30 years, starting his career on camera magazines. Andrew has contributed to titles including What Hi-Fi?, GramophoneJazzwise and Hi-Fi CriticHi-Fi News & Record Review and Hi-Fi Choice. I’ve also written for a number of non-specialist and overseas magazines.