Okay, Illegal Downloads Probably Are Hurting the Music Industry

Tower Records in Japan
by hibino
A Tower Records in Japan that probably still exists.
By Dan Moore

This would have surprised me no matter who had turned it up, but there was a special irony in learning that illegal music downloads "aren't hurting the music industry" from a beleaguered print magazine's free-news arm:

I am a sucker for newsweeklies, which is why--against all odds--I follow TIME magazine on Twitter. They're my own personal twee affectation: Some people smoke a pipe, or only listen to music on vinyl; I read a hundred-page summary of the news once a week on paper. But something about the headline didn't sit right with me, which is why I wasn't surprised to learn that their tweet is a misreading of both the study and their actual article about the study. In their defense, I probably wouldn't have clicked on "Illegal downloads are hurting the music industry, new study claims."

See also: Does Spotify Mean the End of the iPod and Your Music Collection?

It's not the study's methodology I take issue with so much how the question the study asks relates to the question @TIME seems to think they're answering. Here's the question to which they're answering, "No, probably not": Are illegal downloads costing musicians significant numbers of legal downloads? Absent a study to the contrary I'm willing to take their word for it.

But is that the question most people are asking when they're asking questions about illegal downloads? It's a remarkably narrow framing of the issue, like asking a pastor whether prostitutes are really a problem, seeing as they aren't crowding out other kinds of anonymous sexual activity.

The damage recording artists and record labels complain about is the damage downloading did a decade ago--the devaluation of recorded music that necessitates they compete with free music in the first place.

iTunes is only the most successful, profitable reaction to that--and at this point hardly a first-line defense against it. The real competition for the hearts and minds of downloaders has moved to the supply side, where it's more annoying to download music illegally than ever, and to even cheaper forms of fulfilling that demand.

That is, at this point bands are basically competing with leaks by leaking their own music.

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