Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Americans Buy More Music Than They Pirate

AFP/Getty Images
Ethan Smith/The Wall Street Journal

The U.S. may not be the land of the free, after all—at least not of free music.

Americans bought twice as many albums in the first half of the year as they downloaded illegally through BitTorrent , according to a new report from research firm musicmetric.

When it comes to individual songs, the discrepancy is even more stark: Americans paid for nearly 33 times as many songs as they pirated using BitTorrent—a popular way to distribute and download music and other media for free.

Americans downloaded 75.6 million albums from BitTorrent from January to June, the London-based company said. That compares with 150.5 million CDs and album downloads sold in the U.S. during the same period, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

They bought 698 million songs during the same period, while they used BitTorrent to download just 21.3 million single songs. BitTorrent makes it easy to download large files, such as artists’ entire discographies, or full-length Hollywood movies.

Musicmetric’s data indicate that Americans pirate music at less than half the rate as their counterparts in the U.K., where illegal BitTorrent downloads actually outpaced legitimate sales, according to a recent study released by the company.

The company monitors requests for downloads on BitTorrent networks, and sells access to the data it gathers for $15 or $79 a month. It doesn’t track other online-piracy methods. The company argues that information on artists’ popularity in unsanctioned venues is just as useful to music industry professionals as information about legitimate consumption.

“You have to understand how consumers are pushed and pulled between different things on the Web,” musicmetric CEO Gregory Mead said. He couldn’t explain the difference between British and American behavior around music downloading, saying any answer he offered would be “quite speculative.”

The company’s list of cities with the highest per capita rates of BitTorrent music consumption offered a few surprises of its own. Notably absent from the top 20 were tech hubs like San Francisco, Austin or New York City.

Gainesville, Fla., had the highest per-capita rate of BitTorrent activity, followed by Albany, Ga.; Fairbanks, Alaska; Lexington, Ky.; and Tallahassee, Fla. The rest of the top-20 list included San Antonio, Texas; Bowling Green, Ohio; and Lansich, Mich.

The most-downloaded artists were similarly mainstream: Drake, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Adele and Rihanna.

“What this shows is that BitTorrent is really entrenched now,” Mead said. “Everyone knows what it is.”

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