Internet Users Want Free Music, Survey Claims

Despite the almost daily news reports that some music company has found a way to make people pay for music over the Internet, the fact is that very few people have done so. Most people who are getting their music on the Net are getting it free and like it that way---regardless of the quality. A survey released June 9 and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts---a long-term supporter of National Public Radio---appears to validate this common observation.

Called the Pew Internet Project, the study investigates the Internet’s effect on society. Part of the study published in April includes answers provided by 2503 American adults to questions asked over the telephone by Princeton Survey Research Associates. 1345 of the interviewees, more than half of the total, said they were Internet users. Of those, approximately 14% say they have downloaded music for free. Nearly half of the downloaders are between 18 and 29, but 42% are between 30 and 49, the survey reports. Only 2% of the Internet users said they have paid to download music that they already own in another form, such on a compact disc.

The project has extrapolated from these numbers that an estimated 13 million Americans have downloaded music for free, and that fewer than two million have paid for the privilege. The practice is growing as computers become increasingly affordable and Internet connections get faster. Lee Rainie, director of the project, called the downloading phenomenon "a huge threat to the music industry now and . . . a harbinger of the trouble the Internet will pose to other entertainment forms like the movies."

"Millions of Americans have joined the online music revolution in recent months because it's simple, it's free, and so far, nobody's stopping them," Rainie added. The survey’s results were "no surprise to us," Recording Industry Association of America spokeswoman Amy Weiss told the Associated Press. The RIAA has been battling free music on several fronts, including a protracted struggle with file-sharing software company Napster.

Human nature is such that people will leap at the opportunity to get anything free, especially if it’s something they have been paying exorbitant prices for as long as they can remember. They are also extremely reluctant to begin paying once they have gotten used to getting it free. Dow Jones Publications---an organization with presumably good business sense---learned this the hard way a few years ago. During the early days of the Internet’s explosion, the company made all the content of its esteemed Wall Street Journal available online at no charge, as most newspapers and many magazines are still doing. One day the publishers woke up and realized they were giving their product away and decided to begin charging a nominal subscription fee for the online version, about $30 annually for subscribers to the paper. The online readership dropped by 90% instantly, and took many months to return to its previous level.