Music file-sharers are generally unsympathetic to the Recording Industry Association of America’s fight against free file-sharing. In their eyes, albums are overpriced, and most consumers purchase albums for the one or two tracks on the compact disc worth buying. Furthermore, shows like VH1’s “Fabulous Life of (insert celebrity recording artist name here)” portray lifestyles of the rich and famous that, in all honesty, don’t appear to be hindered or limited by a lack of funds at all.
Knowing that Britney Spears made $50 million last year alone leaves file-sharers highly unsympathetic, especially if they’re college students frustrated by perpetual tuition hikes and overpriced textbooks. Music file-sharing is here to stay, and the RIAA must understand and accept that.
But just think for a moment. Is there a possibility that record industries perhaps do not know what they are talking about?
At the moment, the idea does not seem too far from the truth. To further fluster the RIAA, a new comprehensive and first-of-its-kind study was released this week by Harvard Business School’s Felix Oberholzer-Gee and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Koleman S. Strumpf. The bottom line of this study is “downloads have an effect on sales which is statistically indistinguishable from zero, despite rather precise estimates.”
Wow, that is a huge concluding statement. It totally sucks for the RIAA and its affiliates who to date, have no solid and empirically proven evidence to support their claims that file-sharing really does hurt record sales.
For 17 weeks, the two researchers analyzed and compared music downloads of file-sharers to the music purchases that took place during that same period of time. Their complex mathematical formulas even revealed that at its very worst, “it would take 5,000 downloads to reduce the sales of an album by one copy.” This would imply a yearly sales loss of 2 million albums, which is virtually nothing when taking into account that 803 million albums were sold in 2002.
On the other side of the fight, the RIAA attempted to counter the blow by demanding an explanation as to why the Top 10 best-selling album’s of the year have experienced significant declines in sales every year since 2000. Also, they accused the authors of the report of going into the research with a set agenda already in mind, and their complex mathematical formulas used for the study were too difficult to understand.
Aside from the record industry’s lack of hard, empirical evidence to support its claims, the industry have used solely the existence of music file-sharing and the decline of record sales as being the only two variables with a correlation. Other lurking variables may exist which could affect record sales. The New York Times said critics of the music industry have provided other factors that have potentially affected sales such as a slower economy, less music variety on the airwaves and a decrease of fans purchasing CDs to replace their vinyl record collections.
But the results of this potentially revolutionizing study have put the RIAA in a very embarrassing position right now. Because unless the association can come up with something to counter the study’s research methods, the results are pretty darn solid that file-sharing actually benefits artists. File-sharers download free music because they can. If they’re anything like me in they like what they hear and there are more than one or two worthy tracks on the album making it actually worth buying, they will go out and buy the entire CD.
The RIAA must realize that if they’re going to continue ranting and raving about declining record sales, it may be in their best interest to produce quality albums at reasonable prices rather than blaming the file-sharing phenomenon, which they can no longer turn to as a scapegoat.
Jennifer Choi is a senior in English. She can be reached for comment at [email protected].