Lost In Translation: The Problems With The “Pirates Buy More Music” Study

The latest opportunity for the BitTerrorists to get all all high and mighty comes from Norway, where a business school has released a study claiming that people who download music without paying for it are in fact more likely to pay money for legit music than their non-downloading counterparts. The Bi Norwegian School of Management came to this conclusion after studying the music-consumption habits of some 1,900 people around the country. Naturally, this study is being heralded by techie types out there as proof that their open ports will, in fact, save the music industry. But there’s something about all the hubbub that doesn’t sit well with me! I hunkered down in an IM window with Idolator’s resident academic adviser Eric Harvey to figure out why.

mauraatidolator: i feel like this study is flawed but I’m wondering if there is an academic reason, ie this study fails to point out that ‘pirates’ are probably more engaged in music in general and thus would buy more music than the gen pop if the pirate bay et al were taken out of the equation mauraatidolator: or if you think i’m full of crap you can tell me, haha Professoreric: is there a link to the actual study anywhere, in English? because this is really thin logic, obv., but it’s hard to tell if it’s the researchers’ claims or the Ars Technica writer making it sound different mauraatidolator: good question Professoreric: so there’s a discrepancy in either claim from either side that lies in causality Professoreric: like, one thing is responsible for the other, and it’s hard both to argue with that, and agree with that, because research like this is so easy to cherry-pick for what you want Professoreric: and easy to bash for being stiff and quantitative — like, how do they know people are “pirates”? Professoreric: did they wear an eyepatch while filling out the survey? did their parrot shit on the form? Professoreric: relying on the researchers’ definitions of “piracy” to resonate 1:1 with the survey respondents’ is a huge stretch mauraatidolator: here’s the story Ars seems to be referencing Professoreric: of course, we have to account for “Increased betalingsvilje.” Professoreric: as that article tells us mauraatidolator: Danish, betalingsvilje: willingness to pay. Professoreric: one of the key things that quantitative researchers have to always watch out for is the phrasing of their questions. there’s always the chance of there being a HUGE gap between institutional/academic understandings of a term and a 15 year-old kid’s Professoreric: qualitative research is always the best way to go toward actually understanding human everyday behavior. extensive observations, interviews, etc. Professoreric: but then again, that sort of research is NEVER used in newspaper articles. anyone in class know why? anyone? mauraatidolator: ooh, ooh! me! mauraatidolator: because there aren’t stats and claims that are easily transportable to headline format? Professoreric: correct. Professoreric: so i have to be clear that i’m not saying this research is WRONG (mostly because i haven’t read it), but i think that certain questions lend themselves better toward more lengthy observation and less scantron-sponsored bean-counting mauraatidolator: and the conclusions are probably not as cut and dried as the ars technica/gizmodo types want to believe they are Professoreric: that too. but are they the only venues running with that lede? Professoreric: keep in mind that colleges have PR departments, and they put out press releases framed in ways that journalistic outlets run with unquestioningly Professoreric: SHOCKER mauraatidolator: do you think the study is flawed because it didn’t ask people to chart their music-consumption habits over time? because i mean i feel like not asking that question (or publicizing it) allows the gizmodo/ars types to trumpet the findings that are in their interests Professoreric: hmmmm, no, not really Professoreric: i don’t know if it’s an issue of the length of the research, as much as it is the type of the research. If that makes sense mauraatidolator: i guess what i mean is do you think the reception to the study is flawed because it just sort of makes music exist in a bubble where the pay / don’t pay option always existed Professoreric: see i think that’s closer. but again, without being able to look at the paper itself, that’s hard. mauraatidolator: i’m really talking about the takeaway now — even if the study didn’t mention it, the people championing it not mentioning it results in this weird thing where it’s like… not paying for music was always an option and always how people who listened to ‘more music’ got into what they got into mauraatidolator: “-Based on the results from the survey you might think that the free download stimulates paid download, but here is to keep the tongue straight in your mouth. Hvorvidt de som laster ned musikk gratis ellers ville kjøpt den samme musikken, det er og blir et rent hypotetisk spørsmål. Whether those who download music for free would buy the same music, it is, and is a purely hypothetical question.” mauraatidolator: whoa weird mauraatidolator: it was in english when i copied it Professoreric: okay Professoreric: “here is to keep the tongue straight in your mouth” — i mean, they’re trying to hedge their bets there, which is smart. Professoreric: the thing for me is Professoreric: sure, there’s a reason to be pissed about the way copyright laws stand, in the same ways that it’s okay to be pissed about pot laws. but the main people protesting are also the douchiest, least-productive contributors to the debate, you know? Professoreric: Pirate Bay dudes are like guys in drug-legalization rallies with huge Cat In The Hat hats on — no one takes them seriously, and everyone associates them with everyone else involved with the movement. Professoreric: people think that Lawrence Lessig is a Pirate Professoreric: but i get what you’re saying — here’s how i phrase it Professoreric: By presenting the results of the research in this way (or, it could be argued, even conducting the research in this way from the beginning), we limit the respondents’ voices to a binary discourse of ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’, when in reality, our behaviors rarely ever do the same. Professoreric: i mean, i think much more interesting insight could be gleaned by talking to people about their practices, and observing their practices over time. i think we’d find out a lot about the ways in which everyday behavior w/r/t music doesn’t always align with market-based discourses. mauraatidolator: and that allows the whole ‘how has the %age of individual music acquisition gone from paid to unpaid’ question to be answered better mauraatidolator: because you have the time-lapse mauraatidolator: and the introduction of broadband, etc mauraatidolator: i mean this is obviously still a new phenomenon! Professoreric: yeah, and you have the voices of the people, much-less mediated, and not turned into numbers Professoreric: either form of research can take place over time: you can do periodic surveys over decades, you can also do ethnographic research over the same time. but it’s the quality of the data that i think is the most important, which is where stuff gets messy and chaotic

Pirates are the best customers [Afrenposten; HT Ars Technica]