Despite their potentially illegal ways, people who download music without paying are actually the biggest buyers of legal content, according to a study out of Norway.
It’s important to note that the Norweigan School of Management avoided the word "illegal" when posing questions to its 1,900 survey respondents, and merely asked if they downloaded "free" music. But whether Aftenposten’s extrapolation that "Pirates are the best customers" is accurate or not, the point remains that consumers like to try before they buy.
The study asked people from around the country, ages 15 and older, about their music consumption habits. Respondents who downloaded free music said they went on to purchase ten times as much content through paid channels.
Of course, the recording industry is skeptical. Bjørn Rogstad, an executive at EMI, said an increase in consumption paired with declining revenue can’t be explained any other way than piracy (Nevermind altered a la carte downloading habits and the many venues for free music, such as Pandora, Last.fm and MySpace).
Ars Technica points to a similar study from 2006, in which the Canadian Recording Industry Association found that P2P users buy more music. The real reason other people didn’t buy as much? Apathy. I imagine that within this group, there are people that download a song or two once in a while, and as a result they’re not buying anything at all.
It makes me wonder if the music industry should start engaging a wider group of people by giving away more free tunes, and not just the kind of streaming online tracks that you listen to once and forget about. I tend to get a little apathetic myself, but nothing piques my interest more than a free bundle of tracks, lurking on my iPod until I have to hear more. If the music industry can translate more distanced users into active downloaders, maybe revenues will soar once more.