A Grand Unified Theory Of Filesharing

from the makes-sense dept

Ed Felten is trying to explain seemingly different conclusions found in three different studies on the impact of file sharing to come up with a “A Grand Unified Theory of Filesharing.” His theory is that there are really two different types of file sharers – and most people looking at these studies try to take the aggregate data and assume they define a single type of user. The two types he sees are “free riders” and “samplers” – which makes a lot of sense. Those are the two competing forces that everyone (other than the recording industry, who doesn’t believe samplers exist) always talk about. All of these studies that suggest little impact on sales from file sharing suggest that these two forces may cancel each other out right now. The studies suggest that younger users are more likely to be free-riders (downloading music instead of buying), while older users are more likely to be samplers (buying music based on what they downloaded and liked). On top of this, he believes that studies that are based on surveys will tend to over count free riders – since samplers may be more aware of the legal issues involved in file sharing, and less willing to admit to the practice. As Felten points out, of course, this only describes the situation today and doesn’t try to predict what will happen as today’s younger generation of free riders grows older. Of course, if you look back one or two decades, I’m sure we’d see a similar dichotomy where younger music fans (with less money) were much more likely to pass around copied tapes until they got older and could afford to buy more albums. Of course, if you look at this from the view of the recording industry, it would make sense to focus on ways to turn free-riders into samplers. Of course, that’s not what they’re doing. Right now, they’re trying to stop both free-riders and samplers by suing just about everyone. It seems like a better strategy would be to work on ways to give extra incentives to people who buy – such as access to concerts or fan clubs. While these are the types of things more likely to attract younger users, if Felten’s theory is right, those are the users who need these incentives more.

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