Is there anything *but* piracy?

February 4, 2008

People talk as if there’s a digital music economy that matters, as if some meaningful set of people actually buy songs online.  But is this even true?

I’m guessing iTunes makes up virtually all paid downloads: they announced 2 Billion on  2007/1/9, and then three billion on 2007/7/31.  That means 1 billion songs over 171 days, or an annualized rate of 2.13B per year.  Does  anyone have any more recent statistics?  He announced 4B sold on 2007/1/15, which seems like it’s holding roughly constant (1B in 168 days, or 2.27B/year), not bad!  That’s how big (more or less) the legitimate market is for paid downloads.

As for pirate downloads, I’m seeing numbers all over the map.  One source claims 1 billion songs *a day*, but I’m skeptical of that. NPD says 5B  in 2006 (I think I read iTunes did 509M over the same period), which seems reasonable, if a bit low.  Other than that, I’m having a hard  time digging up data.

So one estimate is piracy has flatlined rate of 10x iTunes.  The Times Online estimates it’s more like 20x.  But might it be even more?

And most importantly, if paid downloading only makes up somewhere between 5-10% of total downloads, is it really worth fighting for?  I mean, if 90-95% of voters/customers/citizens already vote Yes! to piracy every day, at what point do we simply give up on the notion that society wants to continue paying for music by the track/listen/minute/month/download/etc?

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