PRS-Backed Study On File Sharing At Pains To Deliver The Wanted Conclusions

from the head-scratching dept

A new study on file sharing has been released by the PRS, the British music licensing body — you know, the one whose “investigators” are actually sales people — and its conclusions are a little bizarre, to say the least. In general, the conclusion seems to be that the Long Tail theory doesn’t hold, because the most popular music on file-sharing networks is also the most popular music in the charts. Maybe we’ve been misunderstanding this Long Tail thing all along, but a big part of it is acknowledging the hits. You don’t ignore them, rather you also pay attention to the long tail of less popular items. It makes sense that the file-sharing download charts parallel music sales charts, since they’re largely tracking the same market; this also reinforces the point that the music industry’s claims about the impact of piracy on sales are overblown (after all, if so many people are downloading certain tracks, one wouldn’t expect them to sell so well).

The study also says the Long Tail fails because “there is too much choice on file-sharing sites” and it’s difficult for people to find new music. Again, this reinforces, rather than undermines the Long Tail, which requires a strong recommendation system to succeed. But the file-sharing services themselves aren’t recommendation systems, nor are they intended to be. The recommendation systems are blogs, net radio, word of mouth, and other sources; the file-sharing networks are just the distribution network. It sounds like this study actually does more to assert the validity of the Long Tail than refute it, and it also does very little to help make the case that file-sharing is destroying the music business. But that, of course, wouldn’t be the message the PRS wants to deliver — so it sets up the straw man that if the Long Tail is wrong, then file sharing must be bad. Only problem is it doesn’t even do that well.

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Comments on “PRS-Backed Study On File Sharing At Pains To Deliver The Wanted Conclusions”

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SteveD says:

Is it really overblown?

“this also reinforces the point that the music industry’s claims about the impact of piracy on sales are overblown (after all, if so many people are downloading certain tracks, one wouldn’t expect them to sell so well).”

This would assume that big artists are being effected to a much much higher degree then small ones. If everyone is loosing 10% (made up figure) of their sales across the board then no one is going to change position in the charts.

But it does underline the ‘paradox of choice’ problem nicely; when presented with loads of bands people will just listen to what’s familiar. But gaps remain for awesome recommendation services like Pandora.

jonny_q says:

There are artists I wouldn’t have a clue about except through pandora. I don’t think they’re popular mainstream artists, but I really wouldn’t know. I don’t know what’s mainstream anymore – I don’t listen to top 40 radio or watch the music video shows on TV very often. The people I listen to may very well be top 40 artists, or they may just be the part of the long tail that fits the niche I was looking for.

DJ (profile) says:


“If you offer people more choice, and help them make that choice, they will take that choice.”


If I were an established expert on, say, pizza, and presented you with a choice of toppings, and then recommended Pepperoni, the odds are good that you will choose pepperoni. A) because the expert recommended it, and B) because it’s a known popular topping.

This isn’t exactly a nascent phenomenon.

Mark (user link) says:

Someone needs to do a study that shows ...

That downloads INCREASE sales of the most popular chart busters. Users download a copy and love the song so much they go out and buy the CD, the t-shirt and the concert tickets. Without free access to that initial hit song you may actually be losing sales. Whether anyone can prove this, or at least spin it well enough for the companies to believe it is another story … but downloads to me are like radio was when I was a kid. You could hear any hit on the radio if you waited long enough and you could record it on your cassette player if you were quick enough on the buttons. These days it’s just easier.

Time to start drinking that cool-aid for a while PRS/RIAA/any other evil minions.

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