Last week, we had a post following the report from NPD suggesting that file sharing in the US had dropped off significantly
due to the Limewire shutdown. While there are some serious questions about NPD's methodology, we assumed that it was at least mostly accurate, and then asked if there had been a corresponding increase in music sales. After all, despite what you hear from the RIAA/MPAA, the end game should
be about business being stronger, not about "reducing piracy." And if "reducing piracy" doesn't end up with more sales, then what good does it do, really?
In the comments to that article, commenter artistrights
pointed to a report from Soundscan that music sales had been up for five straight weeks
, and separately to another report claiming that Taylor Swift's album sold well after Limewire shut down
, selling a million albums in its first week of availability.
I think this is worth exploring, because I've been asking for some actual empirical evidence and we have some. If it's really true that reducing piracy leads to greater sales, that would surprise me, but it would be good to know. If it turns out that reducing piracy leads to more revenue than could have been made otherwise (such as by embracing file sharing) then that would likely cause me to change my opinion on the best strategy for the RIAA to take in this fight. As for the Taylor Swift example, I don't think that proves much of anything, frankly. Throughout the file sharing era, there have been a bunch of releases
that sold over a million copies in their first week. In fact, prior to Napster, there had been only two such releases. The rest all came post-Napster. So I'm not sure we can really learn too much about that. Big hit albums still sell. I'm not sure that's got anything to do with Limewire.
As for the other link to sales being up for a five week period, that's definitely worth noting, though, it does not correspond to the same quarter that the NPD study covered. NPD looked at Q4 of 2010. The link above is talking about February and March of 2011. Now, it's entirely possible there's a lag, and people who stopped using Limewire did nothing for 3 months and then suddenly started buying. Perhaps that's the case. If anyone has more info on what was actually selling during these past five weeks, that would help us dig a bit deeper into this information. Some might also point out that SoundScan is not the most trustworthy source
of data on music sales -- but it wouldn't surprise me if it were accurate "enough" for the type of music that people used Limewire for, so I wouldn't write it off just because it's Soundscan.
I'm not yet convinced that these two data points are necessarily connected, but it is certainly worth noting the recent bump, and it would be great if folks here were able to dig in a bit deeper and see if we can unpack the reasons for the bump in music sales over the past few weeks.