using website header

Connected: Display Connected: Media Landscape Connected: Regional Connected: AV Consumer Surveys Connected: Direct LinkedIn LinkedIn logo icon Twitter Twitter logo icon Youtube Youtube logo icon Flickr Flickr logo icon Instagram Instagram logo icon Mail Mail icon Down arrow
Ian Bramley 

Ipsos: The rise and rise of digital music

Ipsos logoThe latest research piece from Ipsos looks at how digital music is shifting from pirate sites to legal alternatives, and what the implications may be...

The digital music market - 10 years in the making

The music industry has been working on how to monetise digital music for over ten years. Consumer demand was first created and exploited not by the industry, but by unauthorised sites with digital tracks, originally made available through peer to peer file sharing sites like Napster. The music industry has been playing catch-up ever since.

From its beginnings in 2004, when the first official online digital music services were launched, the balance now looks to be shifting from pirate sites to legal alternatives. Official digital music has grown at a phenomenal rate with over 98% of the singles bought now being downloads [BPI*], and nearly twice as many online GB adults aged 15-50 using official online services to access tracks (48%) than via unofficial digital means (25%) [Ipsos MediaCT**].

This thought piece explores how the music industry brought about this change, whether it spells an end to piracy and its impact on the physical retailer. Furthermore what, if any, lessons can other providers of digital content learn from the experience of the music sector?

* British Phonographic Industry, October 2009.
** Ipsos MediaCT, June 2010
-Base: Online adults 15-50 (502)

Experimentation equals choice

It's all about choice. The success of download services like iTunes and Amazon, and now 7digital and Bleep, is just the starting point. Music companies have now diversified, offering new ways for consumers to buy and access music.

In the last year, music companies have partnered with ad-supported services such as Spotify, and We7, ISPs such as Sky, mobile operators such as Vodafone, handset manufacturers such as Nokia and Sony Ericsson and online video services such as Hulu and VEVO. There is now an incredibly rich digital marketplace that isn't afraid to experiment and push forward.

The twin forces of iTunes and Spotify

Based on research from Ipsos MediaCT, downloading tracks from official services remains the main method of accessing digital music, with 33% of online GB adults aged 15-50 having done so in the past 12 months. iTunes now has near universal awareness at 97%, with 54% having used any of its available services. An even bigger growth has occurred in the popularity of free legal streaming services, with usage up from 10% in 2009 to 20% in 2010. Specifically, Spotify has seen its profile take off with awareness doubling in a year to 52%. These services have clearly tapped into unmet demand, but what is the cost of offering a free legal service?

Music consumption

Amongst users of free legal streaming services, when asked what they would have done, had this service not been available, one in four state they would have bought the track from an official service. Twice as many would have accessed the track from an unofficial pirate source -clearly highlighting that these services, whilst potentially taking some people out of the paid-for market, to a much greater extent are providing a legal alternative for pirates to use.

Is digital music piracy now under control?

With all these developments of official services, does this spell the end for digital music piracy, an issue that has plagued the market for years? The latest research from Ipsos MediaCT suggests that 1 in 4 online adults are still pirating digital music, and the BPI states that online copyright infringement costed an estimated £200 million in 2009, so clearly digital piracy remains an activity that a sizable group of consumers still participate in.

From the same research, when digital music/film pirates were asked whether the availability of unofficial sources makes them less likely to pay for official services, over half agreed, highlighting that there is a hardcore group where as long as there are unofficial services to access, they will continue to use them. This is the issue the market has to deal with - that for some, the availability of unofficial alternatives will always act as a disincentive to using official services.

What about the stick?

How might the introduction of the Digital Economy Act (DEA) impact the market? The types of measures being put forward in the DEA do not appear to be likely to cause a public backlash. 52% of online GB consumers agreed that it is acceptable to suspend the internet access of someone who continually downloads illegal copies of music or films, and only 18% disagree. Agreement has actually increased in the past year from 45% in 2009.
No doubt there will always be ways for individuals to go undetected and continue to participate in piracy, and as such the role of the DEA will be to act as a deterrent to contain the level of piracy to a minimum, by discouraging the less hardcore pirates.

Preference for digital reaches parity with physical

Despite the growth of digital music, our research indicates that buying music in physical retail stores remains the main channel used in the past 12 months, with 53% of online GB adults aged 15-50 having bought a CD in a store - ahead of any official digital channels at 48%. An interesting dynamic, however, can be observed over the past year in that physical in-store disc buying has seen a fall of 8% points from 61% in 2009. This is even more evident when adults are asked what their preferred way to access official music is, with preference at near parity between digital online at 42% versus preference for CDs at 45%.

And there is still room to grow

68% of online GB consumers aged 15-50 are interested in using at least one of the main official digital music services in the future. This is led by downloading tracks at 49%, followed by legal free streaming at 41% and subscription at 29%. To maximise this market from its current 48% usage to its potential of 68%, the key factors stated to drive uptake included: offering the right range of products and models at the right price, enabling access across devices and offering exclusive content (such as new releases being made available online first).

Moving forward, other content sectors (such as movies and videogames) should look to the music industry in how they have developed and adapted their offer, and take on board the lessons learned to help build their digital marketplace. This comes back to choice, offering a credible alternative to piracy, getting the pricing right and offering something more than the physical alternative -something that will differentiate and give digital an edge. Get this right and the digital market will continue to grow, offering a diverse and exciting future across sectors.

Your Comments

Monday, 10 August 2010, 22:42 GMT

Interesting article, but it always seems there are conflicting numbers coming out every week. One week things look bright for the music industry, and the next week things are still looking grim (see:

Is it just a matter of picking the numbers you choose to look at... I don't know. Music has been around since the earliest civilizations so I doubt it will ever go away; it's just a matter if people can still make a living from it.

I don't think anyone has the answers right now. In my personal opinion, it might take us another five to ten years for the industry to stabilize. We're in between generations right now. Many of the young people (under 18) like digital, but they don't make money to pay for it so they resort to illegal means; couple that with the fact it's often just as easy to find illegal music as doing a search in rhapsody. The older generation (40+) are not as privy to the digital trends and I think they are the ones still buying most of the physical media.

As more of the young digital generation moves into the workforce, I think we'll see more numbers on digital purchases like streaming, digital downloads, "cloud" music, or whatever other catchy digital term they come out with next. Those same future parents will introduce their kids to it and digital music will become a family thing instead of just something your teenage son or daughter know how to work.

Indie Producer
Leave a comment

Thank you for your comment - a copy has now been sent to the Mediatel Newsline team who will review it shortly. Please note that the editor may edit your comment before publication.