Friday, 17 April 2015

IFPI Digital Report 2015: The highlights

It's that time of year again: the annual digital music report from IFPI. You can download it in full here.

It's another positive entry, with discussion on digital piracy limited in comparison with reports from recent years.

In it, search engines such as Google are once more singled out as having to do more to minimise the traffic of searches to illegal content. Additionally, other companies are also singled out as playing a critical role in encouraging digital piracy. For example, the report notes how much pirated content is now sourced via mobile apps and that these apps are downloaded from legitimate sources such as Apple.

Also, companies such as British Airways, Samsung, and PayPal advertise on illegal websites hosting copyrighted content.

In a nutshell, consumers are receiving mixed signals.

Elsewhere, the report focuses on the continued rise of streaming, though acknowledges that the majority of digital music revenues come from downloads. There are now over 400 digital music services worldwide.

Interestingly, the top-selling album of the year (by some margin) was the OST to the Disney film 'Frozen'. As discussed elsewhere on this blog, film soundtracks have been in decline for some time, more than conventional albums, so it's a curious, but not unexplainable one when you think about who the Frozen album was intended for, and who is likely to buy it for them.

Anyhow, get on over to the IFPI website yourself and have a look. It's well put together and very accessible.

Tweeps @musicpiracyblog

Friday, 3 April 2015

Jay-Z has 99 problems (and Spotify is one of them)

Everyone loves Spotify, right?

Well, no.

The market-leading subscription service routinely comes under attack for paying artists so little, with even Universal Music Group, who part-own the service, unhappy with the low conversation rate from freemium to premium.

And, now, a 'new' service called Tidal has arrived. At least in North America.

As a UK resident, I have yet to sample the delights of 'Daisy' (similarly hyped), which of course had Trent Reznor's input. So, when I hear of a new game-changing service, I can't help but feel like it sort of doesn't really exist until I get to try it out.

Anyhow, collectively owned in part from artists themselves, Tidal simply aims to generate more revenues for content creators. And it has backing from a lot of high profile musicians such as Madonna.

Jay-Z explains: "For someone like me, I can go on tour. But what about the people working on the record, the content creators and not just the artists?"

This is at the heart of everything.

It's easy (and unsophisticated) to say that rich musicians don't need or deserve more money, but what about new and emerging artists?

Data from the Musicians Union (2012), who represent over 30,000 musicians, reveals that 78% of them earn less than £20,000 per year. It is also thought that just 1% of musicians account for some 77% of all music revenue. Many of them have signed up to Tidal.

Perhaps the smartest aspect of the service I have read about yet concerns the promise to allow musicians and fans to connect in new ways, along with exclusive content. This is something I have been anticipating for a while, but have yet to see it materialise in an exciting way.

Premature to expect any 'tidal waves' here, but there are some unique aspects about Tidal which are compelling and absolutely make it a rival contender for the likes of Spotify and Deezer.

At the end of the day though, with literally hundreds of different ways to legally access digital music, different people will of course shop around and settle on different services for particular reasons, just as they do with any product. I don't see any one taking over. But, if it did, I guess musicians would want it to be this one.

Twreats @musicpiracyblog

Thursday, 26 March 2015

"If you like my new album, then check out my old one": The influential role of new releases on motivating purchases of old ones

And here's another lost gem.

In this important article published in the Journal of Political Economy (you can download a free version here) authors Hendricks and Sorensen explain how new music releases, and specifically those which are a hit, motivate sales of albums in an artists' back catalogue.

Sounds fairly obvious, but don't forget that research has an important role to play in defining basic assumptions about the world and the use of a substantial dataset of sales data from hundreds of artists over years and years goes a long way in setting this one in stone.

And if that's not enough, consider how in the days after U2 force-fed i-Tunes users with their new album, 26 of their older releases shot up the charts (though not to an extent particularly worth shouting about).

It's a tough read given the methodology used (you will know what I mean when you open the PDF) but the lengthy introduction to the paper is very well put together and easy to understand.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog


Hendricks, K. and Sorensen, A. (2009). Information and the Skewness of Music Sales. Journal of Political Economy, 117(2), 324-369.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Recommended journals #2: Music Psychology

In the second of this occasional series, I aim to bring the exciting world of music psychology to your attention.

Distinct from other branches of psychology, music psychology uncovers the powerful role music plays in our lives by exploring a broad range of topics including the increasing role of music in our everyday lives, thanks to our dear friend technology. To this end, much research explores the role of music on health and wellbeing.

A good dig around will also yield interesting insights into human cognition by considering emotion, language, memory, etc.

The three journals below are a good starting point if you're interested in doing some research of your own.

Psychology of Music
Musicae Scientiae

Tweets @musicpiracyblog

Friday, 20 February 2015

Rage against the hyprocrisy machine

Something that most people don't realise/don't think about when they engage in illegal file-sharing is that in doing so, someone, somewhere, is profiting from copyrighted media that they are not legally or morally entitled to.

Yes, when you download a song or album from a band you yourself are not making money off of it: you are saving money from not buying it. But, someone else is often making money from this transaction. Like the guys from The Pirate Bay, for example. And it's not just a few pennies here and there.

Notably, research highlights that your common garden digital pirate who downloads copyrighted media finds that piracy-for-profit is 'wrong'. But, in downloading music or movies, you are enabling this very action. You are, as they say, part of the problem.

With this in mind, I was struck by a video I found on YouTube where someone compiled songs from Rage Against The Machine into a 'greatest hits compilation'. Rage Against The Machine don't have a greatest hits compilation.

Now, there are countless such videos on YouTube, but in this one, the YouTube user inserted (lots of) advertisements in the video. He or she is actively trying to make money from copyrighted works they had absolutely no involvement in, and out in the open. Many users have, quite rightly, expressed fierce criticism over this bold move.

It's indicative of a general lack of respect for copyright laws, and this extends to Google themselves (who own YouTube).

It also illustrates that: a) so-called 'pirates' are not one unanimous group with a collective identity; and b) when piracy-for-profit is made explicit, this becomes clearer.

Crimes which are perceived as victimless tend to encourage the perpetrators to not consider themselves as criminals. And until concrete evidence is brought forward that digital piracy poses a real economic threat to the creative industries, digital piracy will continue to be thought of as a victimless crimes. And digital pirates themselves will not think of themselves as criminals.

For now, remember that digital piracy makes criminals out of someone. Every time. You might not care about it, but it is important to acknowledge that this is true.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Movie Piracy, and the myth of 'try before you buy'

Strumpf (in press), drawing from file-sharing data between 2003 and 2009 finds that movie piracy had a modest impact on box office revenues. And yet, other research has come to wildly different conclusions.

Zentner (2010), for instance, finds that DVD sales dropped by some 27% from 2004 to 2008 and this substitution effect has been found elsewhere (see Bai and Waldfogel, 2009 and Rob and Waldfogel, 2006).

However, other research, such as that of Martikainen (2011) and Smith and Telang (2010) does not arrive at the same conclusions and does not find a substitution trend.

So what is going on here?

Well, it's down to our old friend again: research methods.

Digital piracy is incredibly difficult to measure, and the different approaches used makes it difficult to draw comparisons across studies (as I tried to do above).

So when someone asks you if watching movies illegally acts as a 'try before you buy' sort of sampler, you can tell them 'I don't know, because neither does the research'.

Certainly the trend is that digital piracy harms sales, and this is intuitive. It does not however make it correct.

Sparing a thought for the poor box office performance of films which were leaked ahead of release (think: The Expendables 3) and you can't help but feel like it is the case.

If I watched a pirated movie, regardless of whether or not I actually enjoyed it, I can't see what motivation I would then have to then go and spend money going to see it again at the cinema.

But that doesn't make it so.

Check out the research.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog


Bai, J. and Waldfogel, J. (2009). Movie Piracy and Sales Displacement in a Sample of Chinese College Students (Working Paper).

Martikainen, E. (2011). Does File-Sharing Reduce DVD Sales? (Working Paper).

Rob, R. and Waldfogel, J. (2006). Piracy On The High C's: Music Downloading, Sales Displacement, And Social Welfare In A Sample Of College Students. Journal of Law and Economics, 49(1), 29-62.

Smith, M.D. and Telang, R. (2010). Piracy or promotion? The impact of broadband internet penetration on DVD sales. Information Economics and Policy, 22(4), 289-298.

Strumpf, K. (in press). Using Markets to Measure the Impact of File Sharing on Movie Revenues (Working Paper).

Zentner, A. (2010). Measuring the impact of File Sharing on the movie industry: An empirical Analysis using a Panel of countries (Working Paper).

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Documentary film on Napster (excellent!)

Directed by Alex Winter (who for me will always be Bill from Bill and Ted fame), I stumbled upon a documentary film called 'Downloaded' all about the Napster Wars.

All the principals are interviewed and it's exciting to hear them discuss their naivety, with extensive footage covering the inception of the file-sharing service and the ensuing legal battles.

There's loads of footage from musicians like Metallica, Dr. Dre and Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan, all offering different takes on music piracy.

The most fascinating aspect of this particular documentary is how affable and well-meaning Shawn Fanning, Shaun Parker etc. are, especially when compared to the guys behind The Pirate Bay, as captured on the recent documentary TBP: AFK.

I found 'Downloaded' on Netflix. I'm sure you will be able to find it somewhere similar in the world of VOD.

Tweets @musicpiracyblog


Winter, A. (Director). (2013). Downaloded [motion picture]. United States: VH1.