Wednesday 12 August 2009

The on-demand generation wants to eat it all

UK Music, the pan music industry collective headed up by ex-Undertone Feargal Sharkey has published a new survey of 1,800 14-24 year olds conducted by the University of Hertfordshire which shows that whilst music remains of fundamental importance to young people’s lives, according to Sharkey “what they are clearly trying to explain to us at the minute is that we can get it for free and we’re not going to get caught”. The survey shows that 90% of youngsters would miss music more than anything else (yes, including their mobile phones) but points out that the vast majority of the respondents know what copyrights is, understood what copyright is but “just don’t care”. 61% admitted to illegal downloading and peer-to-peer file swapping and a whopping 86% to copying CDs for friends, with a growing trend sending music by email, Skype, MSN and Bluetooth or copying hard drives.

Whilst the number illegally downloading was marginally down on UK Music’s 2008 survey (then 63%) most illegal downloaders engage in illegal activity regularly (83% at least weekly) and the survey found that the computer is the top entertainment hub for playing music, followed closely by iPods and other portable music players. The average young person has 8,159 music tracks on their hard drive – the equivalent of 17 days of non-stop listening to unrepeated tracks and perhaps unsurprisingly 57% admitted to hard drive copying – in effect copying someone else’s entire music collection. More interestingly for the music industry, the survey points to some positive messages from the on demand generation - the downloaders who amass their music collections illegally are willing to pay, as long as it's from an "all-you-can-eat" download service and 85% of them said they would pay for such a service if it was available. Whilst the survey shows a huge enthusiasm for streaming services like Spotify and YouTube, 78% of respondents would not be prepared to pay for streaming - and the trick seems to be to make downloading affordable and to allow the consumer to have complete control - almost all the participants want the ability to copy music from one device to another although of the participants who said they wanted the ability to move music between various devices, and 56% of respondents believed that manufacturers of MP3 players, mobile phones and other recordable devices should pay a fee to artists whose music they have copied – quite how though doesn’t seem to cross many of the respondent’s minds if they don't pay up somewhere along the chain!

In his introduction to the report Sharkey writes that the “ultimate challenge for music and other IP-based industries is to reconcile what the customer wants with what is economically and humanly possible” adding "we will achieve nothing if we do not work with music fans and young music fans in particular. We ignore engagement at our peril. That message is loud and clear." As a representative of the record industry, music publishers, musicians, writers and composers Sharkey goes on to say "The music industry continues to change at breakneck speed, and having been the first to wrestle with the impact and disruption of digital we have had to learn very quickly," adding "While young people continue to display such a passion for music and the industry continues to forge ahead I remain positive that we can successfully rise to these challenges. There are no silver bullet solutions, but I am convinced this research points us towards at least some of the answers". With 85% of respondents who use illegal P2P networks saying they would swap to a legal ‘fixed fee’ unlimited download service and 77% saying the would still buy CDs it is not all doom and gloom – is it?

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