Piracy raw data update

March 21, 2009

Here’s a big data dump of stats (followed by analysis), for those who care about this sort of thing, from a March 2009 ars technica article:

– 17M people stopped buying CDs in 2008

– 8M people started buying digital music in 2008
– There are now 36M digital music customers
– 1.5B songs were sold “digitally” (ie, online) in 2008  
– 33% “of all music tracks” purchased in the US were digital

– Pandora use doubled in 2008, to “18 percent of Internet users”
– “Social network music streaming” rose from 15 to 19 percent usage

A January 2009 ars technica article rounds out these stats with:

– “unit purchases” increased by 10.5% in 2008
– 428M albums (LPs + CDs + online) were sold in 2008, down 14%
– 65.6M online albums sold in 2008, up 32% over 2007
– 1.5B songs sold online in 2008, up 27% over 2007
– 1.88M vinyl sales in 2008, up 89% over 2007

So all that looks pretty rosy for the music industry, in absolute terms.  But how did it do relative to piracy?  According to this slightly more pessimistic January 2009 IFPI report:

– Digital music sales grew 25% in 2008 to $3.7B worldwide
– Digital music sales account for 20% of recorded music sales, up 15% over 2007

– 40B songs were “illegally file-shared” in 2008
– 72% of UK music consumers wold stop pirating if told to do so by their ISP
– 74% of French consumers agree internet disconnection is preferable to fines

A linked “key facts” PDF has a boatload of additional statistics, including:

– 16% of European internet users “regularly swapped infringing music” in 2008
– 13.7M films were distributed via P2P in France in May 2008, compared to 12.2M cinema tickets
– “free music” was given as the primary reason for piacy
– P2P file sharing accounts for up to 80% of traffic on ISP networks

So pirated downloads still utterly dominates legit downloads, to the tune of 26:1.  If anything, it seems like piracy is accelerating, even faster than legal download services.

What about legit streaming?  In July 2008 I estimated that MySpace users legally streamed about 110M songs per day.  Turns out I was off by a lot: they streamed 1B downloads after “only a few days”, and this September 2008 TechCrunch article tosses out 20B streams initiated *per day*.  That’s an amazing number.

But it’s also an incredibly vague number, as stream initiation isn’t nearly as interesting as stream completion.  For example, the average user spends under 10 minutes on the site per visit, meaning there’s barely time for two full-length songs.  I’m having a surprisingly hard time finding recent data, but this 2007 article shows MySpace had like 29M daily visitors, so even doubling that for 60M daily visitors today suggests at most time for 120M full-length songs per day — roughly 43B per year — and this ignores the large subset of international users (who can’t get newly-released music).

Similarly, YouTube had 5B views in July 2008, and 6B views in December 2008, so let’s just assume something like 66B total videos in 2008.  As for what fraction of those equate to “songs” I have no idea; I’d say this is more about “intent” than anything (ie, people who play the video in the background like a radio, rather than watching it like a music video), and I have no data at all on that.  But I wager it’s not the common case, so let’s say 25% of YouTube videos are actually just played as songs — and even that seems high.  (Also, this assumes all YouTube music is licensed, when in fact the opposite is probably more often true.  Details, details…)

Adding to MySpace’s 43B and YouTube’s 16.5B would be all of Pandora’s streams, which should be considerable given the claim that 18% of all Internet users use it, but I can’t find any data on it.  One reason for that is probably because Pandora actually has nowhere near that userbase: this Dec 19, 2008 TechCrunch article reports they only just hit 20M users, while in that same month the internet was estimated to comprise 248M North-American users (1.4B global).  This puts Pandora’s penetration at a much more conservative 8% of North-American users (assuming 100% are North American), or 1% global.  Still significant, but 20M *total* users is nowhere near MySpace’s 100M *active* users.

So for the sake of argument, let’s say there are about 60B legit streams, against 40B pirated downloads — meaning piracy utterly dominates in the download market, whereas legit streaming utterly dominates in the streaming market.  Indeed, there is essentially no such thing as a meaningful “legitimate” download market, or a meaningful “pirate” streaming market.

As for which accounts for more total “listens” and thus ultimately controls more users’ ears, that’s an open question: on the one hand, streamed songs are only heard at most once, whereas downloaded songs can be listened to multiple times.  But streamed songs are probably more likely to be heard at all, with a lot of pirated songs probably just going into vast personal libraries having never been played.

Who’s winning?  Who knows, and as piracy goes dark, it’s harder and harder to tell.  Personally, I’d still put my money on piracy having a strong lead on users’ ears, both right now and for the forseeable future.  If the average pirated song is listened to just 1.5 times (which seems reasonable), than piracy is still winning.

So in conclusion, it seems to me that the battle for downloads is utterly and irretrievably lost to piracy, but the battle for pirate streaming is only just beginning.

As it stands, streaming is overwhelmingly in favor of legitimate content owners.  But I really wonder how long that will last. 

After all, the list of streaming P2P applications is long and always growing (now over encrypted onionskin darknets).  Basically, P2P streaming is a hard problem, but it’s also largely a solved problem.  So if there’s no technical reason why pirates don’t stream, maybe they don’t simply because they don’t want to? 

The most obvious reason why this might be true is because people turn to piracy primarily to avoid paying.  (Please excuse the alliteration.)  So long as MySpace and YouTube continue give it out for free, there’s little incentive to build a pirate streaming site.  But the real test will come if something in that calculation changes, by one or more of the major parties.

For example, let’s say MySpace decides they don’t like paying to stream content from central servers, and then paying again for licensing fees.  Maybe they find their ad revenue sagging and decide to integrate a streaming P2P plugin (I’m betting on Littleshoot for now) to offer the same exact experience as today — but by tapping into the pirate networks.  So no bandwidth costs, no licensing fees.

Alternatively, let’s say the powers that be do something incredibly stupid like pulling their music from MySpace, or jacking up the price such that MySpace is forced to charge for it.  At this point there’s an opening for someone like The Pirate Bay to offer a first-class pirate station, and then it’s game on.

Either party would use an argument like “we don’t host any data, we just enable user sharing.  Any illegal behavior they do is their business and we don’t encourage it (we merely profit from it).” 

And unlike the small P2P outfits who have tried this in the past, the next wave of defendants will have substantial legal resources and astonishing revenue incentive.  And unlike the tiny, outgunned P2P outfits of yore, MySpace’s or The Pirate Bay’s victory won’t be quite so Pyrrhic.

Anyway, just wanted to do a quick review of the available data and update my predictions.  Can anyone provide more recent or accurate data to correct the above analysis, or see holes in the logic?  I’m as eager as anyone to get a firm grasp on reality; let me know if you think my grip is slipping.

Fun times, I can’t wait to see where this goes.  Thankfully, it’s going there really fast, so there’s little time to wait.

David Barrett
Follow me at http://twitter.com/quinthar

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