Music Pirates Apparently Have The Same Taste As Boring People Who Pay For Music

noah | May 14, 2009 10:00 am

All that talk about how filesharing is good for independent musicians and distributors of music, because it lets “the people” decide what they want to hear, free of corporate chains and puppet-string-pullers? Which is propelled by the idea that the “long tail” of cultural consumption not only exists, it’ll actually help artists who were previously ignored by The System find the audience they deserve? Yeah, well, it might be bunk–at least if a study of the downloading habits of filesharers that revealed the snowballing popularity of already-popular music is to be believed. (Please don’t have your world shattered by the notion that a theory touted within the esteemed pages of Wired might be a load of techno-utopianist tripe designed to get a megabucks book deal out of desperate business-book publishers.)

The study, carried out by Will Page, chief economist at the PRS, and Eric Garland, head of media tracking firm Big Champagne, looked at patterns of music usage among file-sharers. It aimed to see if that pattern of use had any lessons for the way music is marketed and sold. Many have claimed that the unprecedented amount of choice on the web would give rise to new models of music distribution. This “Long Tail” argument, say the authors, claims: “If you offer people more choice, and help them make that choice, they will take that choice.” If true, this could mean that music makers should focus attention away from a few popular acts towards the mass of bands with smaller, dedicated followings. However, found the pair, usage on file-sharing sites closely mirrors that on legitimate music sites. There was no evidence of the Long Tail operating. The authors wrote: “Much of the volume (sales or swaps) is concentrated amongst a small proportion of the available tracks.” The reason for this, claim the authors, is that there is too much choice on file-sharing sites.

Of course, the “free” marketeers out there are going to say that the study is biased because it was in part funded by the British royalty-collecting outfit PRS, but even the most averse-to-paying consumer has to admit that feeling overwhelmed by a sheer glut of anything results in shortcuts being made–and in these cases, those shortcuts involve people paying attention to either “most popular” lists or the recommendations of their friends. I am sure that some readers of this site will say that it isn’t true and provide personal anecdotes to back up that claim, but all I’m going to say is that anyone reading a music blog–or, heck, even reading music news that isn’t just “so and so had a baby / got arrested / died” is a much more active consumer of music-related entertainment than people who are just tooling around for stuff to fill their iPodsPirated pop helps keep stars popular [BBC; HT Alec Empire] [Pic via The Master Shake Signal]