MP3 Survey

1) How old are you?

I asked the question to see if there were a generational divide between those who were willing and those who were not, and indeed there was one (see below). Most who responded were between 15-25, though older folks answered, too.

2) Would you be willing to pay to download all the legal MP3s you want?

If you were over 40, you usually were willing to pay, under 40, you almost certainly were not. That was rather older than I would have suspected; some of the most vociferous defenders of free MP3s were in their thirties.

Any willingness to pay was based on getting music you didn’t already have. Virtually everyone found the notion of paying for music you already owned absurd.

3) If you are, what would be the most you’d be willing to pay?

For those willing to pay, it wasn’t too much, generally not more than the cost of a few CDs.

4) If you aren’t, why don’t you think you should? Isn’t it like going to the CD store and taking some of those? Or do you think it’s like something else?

There were many justifications for not wishing to pay, ranging from the solipsistic (“I don’t care”) to the constitutional (you don’t want to know).

Most frankly sounded like excuses.

However, there were a few reasons often cited which seemed to be on firmer ground.

Many analogized MP3 recording with cassette tape recording off the radio. Both involve relatively low-quality recordings that come with difficulties and inconveniences. Many found it hard to see how one could be legal and another not.

Others pointed out that the practices of the recording industry often made them pay for what they did not want to get what they did want (most typical was the “pay $15 to get a CD for just a couple songs”).

There’s a lot of anger out there at the music industry, a very widespread perception that the record companies are mostly useless parasites sucking out extortionate amounts of money for whatever it is they do.

However, there really wasn’t a groundswell of support towards paying artists more of a share than they effectively get now; most people’s estimates of what they’d pay would give the artist about the same and cut out the record companies entirely.

5) If you aren’t, if a few people you know started getting arrested for downloading non-legal MP3s, would that change your mind? Would you just stop downloading them, or just keep doing what you’re doing?

This was about the only action that would get a substantial proportion of those otherwise uninclined to pay for MP3s to do so. There was (understandably) widespread scepticism that something like this would ever happen. I asked the question not because I think something like that is going to happen,
but rather to gauge how far record companies would have to go to get people to pay.

6) If you aren’t, if getting good MP3s started getting a lot harder than it is now, would that change your mind? Would you just stop downloading them, or would you just keep doing what you’re doing?

If the record companies think closing a place like Napster would deter people, they should think again. Respondents were more likely to deride Napster than miss it, and cited a number of sources from which they could get music, a major one being their friends and associates.

It’s important to note that MP3s are considered a “homegrown” phenomenon. People aren’t looking for content providers to provide them with digital content; rather they look to each other to get that for (effectively) free. It’s like “you do your thing and charge in your arena, we’ll do ours for free on the Internet.”

Should this attitude persist, this could be very bad news for the future of the Internet (see conclusions below).

7) Roughly what proportion of the MP3s you download do you end up hanging on to (i.e. you burn them, or they won’t get deleted in your next hard drive cleanup)?

While some people use MP3s to search for new music, most know what they want, and hang on to it.

8) Of those you hang on to, how many of them are songs by artists for which you’d never buy the CD because you only like a couple songs from them? If you could buy CD-quality singles of these songs for a dollar or two, or say, a collection of your favorite songs for the price of a normal CD, would you be more likely to buy them?

There was a good deal of this.

9) Would you be willing to pay an artist directly for a song or album? How much would you be willing to pay for a song you really liked in MP3 format? Higher-quality audio?

This idea had considerable appeal, but, as noted above, people were not willing to pay the artist appreciably more, but rather cut out the middleman.

10) Alternatively, would you be willing to pay, say, fifty cents extra per blank CD, the money going to the recording companies, in return for perfectly legal MP3 (or better quality) downloads from those companies, with some provision made for artists to collect based on the number of downloads?

Outside of Canada (where it already exists), this went over like a lead balloon.


A large majority do not and will not pay for digital content, and they’re on the whole very matter-of-fact about it.

Nefarious practices of the music industry aside, even if saints ran the record companies, there would still would be considerable expense incurred by anyone promoting a band (or movie, for that matter). Expenses such as these are almost completely discounted by the respondents.

While an argument can be made that MP3s aren’t the “real thing;” it is just a matter of time before higher-quality digital content becomes available, and it is doubtful most people would want to pay for that, either.

Digital transmission certainly would cut costs. However, the perceived value of digital content is much, much lower than the cost savings.

Should that remain the case, content providers will simply not provide digital content. This will hardly bother folks, at least initially, they’ll just do the conversions themselves.

This leaves people with the choice of paying more for “old form” content legally, or paying nothing for “new form” content illegally.

This is a situation a little different than software; businesses (which can be relatively easily scrutinized) don’t buy half the CDs or movies sold. Given that, it’s more likely that eventually music and movie “warez” will cut into music and (particularly) movie sales.

About a half-century ago, a similiar situation happened with baseball and television. Some baseball teams let all their games be televised, and attendance dropped disastrously. People saw no reason to go to games when they could see it for free on television. “Free” television rights had to be restricted for attendance to recover.

What will happen depends on to what degree people rely on “unofficial” digital content. If most people still usually buy the CD or go to the movie; you’ll have a situation similiar to that of the software industry, it will live.

However, if most people don’t, then we’re going to have less music and fewer movies, maybe drastically so. If people stop getting paid for doing something, they usually stop doing it. Don’t you?

There’s no doubt in my mind content providers would love to continue to do just what they’re doing now, and charge the same for digital content even though it costs them less. Not saying they’re right.

But if no one will pay anything for all these things, you inevitably end up with nothing.

Email Ed

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