A study in Canada has been released that proves what many (myself included) have known for years, that on average people that pirate music are more likely to buy CD’s rather than less. The study was sponsored by the Canadian government and is a bit of a slog to read, but there is already some very good analysis of it on the Web.
While I have seen (and helped conduct) a number of studies on this topic in recent years, this one is by far the most conclusive and the most reliable one I have seen. Spanning nearly a year and with over 2000 participants this study has a very low margin for error. From what I have seen so far, there also doesn’t seem to be any inherent bias in the conducters of this study, although this is something I will be researching further.
The study is exclusively conducted among Canadian citizens, and the cultural and environmental similarities make this almost directly applicable to the majority of the English speaking first world. The first key finding was that the net effect of illegal downloads on CD purchases in Canada was zero. That’s right, zero, zilch, nada, nil, the big donut. Amongst those that did download though, there was a direct, positive correlation between the number of songs downloaded and the number of CD’s purchased. The more people got for free, the more they paid for.
I have long known that the RIAA’s tactic of suing big downloaders meant they were also targeting their biggest customers. Ironically the money they win from their lawsuits is money that would probably have been spent on music. It’s not as stupid when you factor in that they are trying to change a cultural mores rather than claim damages. In this case they are only moderately stupid, given that the group they are targeting are not likely to respond well to these tactics, rather than monumentally stupid in driving their best customers away.
This study will generate a lot of noise in the coming days/weeks. It is unlikely that the music industry will come to its senses, but here’s hoping.