Do MP3's really effect record sales?

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This is something I've been wondering about, and I'm sure has been said before, but really, from the people here who download a large number of MP3's-- have you bought more, or less records since?

Personally, I've bought more. The record companies don't seem to understand WHY people (or, most people I've talked to at least) are downloading songs. There is such a small amount of music allowed to them via the radio and TV; people have no other means to get other music. The record companies are totally missing the point... look at how they've tried to start their own file sharing programs (pay based of course) which feature artists such as U2, and Sheryl Crow. Do they understand that perhaps U2's shit music has been crammed down my throat all day long, and maybe, just maybe, I never want to hear them ever again? You don't download MP3's to find U2, if you want to hear U2, watch VH1 for 10 minutes, they'll play them a hundred fucking times. I mean, when I first got Napster, it was like a whole new world was opened to me. All of these artists that were almost hidden were all of a sudden there for me to listen to, to experience. When I went into the record store, I didn't just see the 15 artists that the radio told me to buy, I saw what I had listened to and decided that I liked for myself.

And frankly, the only way it's any different from the radio at all, is the fact that here, the record companies can just use payola to decide what get's heard-- and that's what angers them.

So, you guys, buy more or less?

David Allen, Thursday, 15 May 2003 12:37 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Some people buy more CDs - I do, and I imagine most ilm'ers do.

But other people (who are more numbrous, according to statistics), buy less. Many people I know buy no CDs at all any more - or at least didn't when AudioGalaxy was online.

Polling ILM isn't going to do much to (dis)prove your thesis.

Sean@tangmonkey (Sean M), Thursday, 15 May 2003 12:41 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

i buy the same amount (which is a lot) but i listen to more music

electric sound of jim (electricsound), Thursday, 15 May 2003 12:46 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

My - vaguely informed, but only vaguely - guess is that it affects sales in different ways according to whether the consumer was a heavy, medium or light purchaser of CDs.

I think light purchasers are probably still buying - they don't care enough about getting free music to want the hassle of installation, searching etc etc etc. Their consumption patterns won't have changed much.

Heavy purchasers will still be buying CDs - some less, some more, some just as much - though MP3s will probably have increased the total amount of music they acquire or are exposed to.

I think the group which will have been affected are the medium purchase - they like music but they don't have the romantic/obsessive/addictive attachment to it that drives people into record shops and leads to compulsive acquisition of new music. They're probably consuming about as much music as before, but a significant chunk of it they're getting via downloads and CD-Rs.

Tico Tico (Tico Tico), Thursday, 15 May 2003 12:48 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

The industry's permise when they estimate their yearly losses due to downloading is that every download is a lost sale. It's flawed to assume that someone who wants to hear the new Madonna record (out of curiousity) would have bought it anyway. It may be true in some cases that downloads take the place of sales - but it can also be looked at as a potential sale .. depends on the quality/longevity of the product. (i.e. Disposable pop songs aren't worth owning.)

dave225 (Dave225), Thursday, 15 May 2003 12:54 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Something I'm interested in but I've never seen addressed is whether multi-artist compilations (eg NOW) have been affected by MP3s.

Tico Tico (Tico Tico), Thursday, 15 May 2003 12:59 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I buy more music since I've begun downloading. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I have a little more money now, though.

My gut feeling is if the record companies (I'm talking about the major labels here) offered a better product then sales wouldn't be slumping --it's as simple as that. Now that there's a little competition, they just scapegoat the downloaders.

And as regards dls: the majors are becoming hopelessly out of fashion by being technologically retarded. A huge part of the reason people download music for free is because it's so unbelievably simple. I don't have to get up out of my chair, drive to Sam Goody, search around for a CD that's in the wrong section, drive back, put it on and realize I don't like it.

scott m (mcd), Thursday, 15 May 2003 13:04 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

It does infuriate me how quality of product is NEVER given as even a potential reason for decline in sales - if sales had jumped 10% instead of slumped 10% what would they be attributing it to - blind luck? That said I think MP3s play a part.

In some ways I'd love to work in record company marketing or market research because I'm positive I could do a better job, but I think it's on a road to nowhere.

Tico Tico (Tico Tico), Thursday, 15 May 2003 13:07 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

echoing what others have said: mp3s, in my experience, are more of a replacement for radio. I think this is what makes the industry so nervous, filesharing messes with their marketing plans as well as their sales (if it really affects sales at all). My uneducated guess would be that consumption is more diffuse and unpredictable lately, and unpredictability is nearly as bad as losses, as far as shareholder value goes.

And, if it is forward thinking at all, I'm sure the industry wants to get legal precedents set now in the age of mp3, because soon enough we'll be trading files that are identical to the sold product. (vbr mp3's are close enough)

g--ff c-nn-n (gcannon), Thursday, 15 May 2003 13:10 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I'm sure the industry wants to get legal precedents set now in the age of mp3

It's true, they're waiting around for this precedents to be set while the technology is ever-improving and changing. The courts are notoriously slow in regards to technology. If the record companies don't act (I mean other than suing the bad guy), they become useless. It's a poor strategy for any business.

It's funny, I would think that slsk could be a label's most valuable marketing tool. But to utilize it would be to admit they're wrong.

scott m (mcd), Thursday, 15 May 2003 13:24 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

What makes you think they don't utilize it? Those pre-releases get online somehow. It wouldn't surprise me at all if record companies seed file-sharing networks with real AND fake tracks - let the buzz grow, give people a feeling of working for their downloads, create an artificial barrier-to-entry, and fingers crossed come the actual release date.

Tico Tico (Tico Tico), Thursday, 15 May 2003 13:26 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

yeah I wonder how much left-hand-doesn't-know is going on btw the lobbyists and the promoters.

g--ff c-nn-n (gcannon), Thursday, 15 May 2003 13:30 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Do MP3's really effect record sales?

the reverse if done the right away, record companies
[and that includes independent labels] - should be far more pro active in promoting their artists, by providing say 2 MP3 downloads for each album free.

Also people are driven to downloads because radio is so poor as they playlist a small amount of artists [often clustered around a few genres that work to a set formula],repeated on a heavy rotation.

in the UK when it comes to new music Radio 1, 6 Music, Xfm - are all culprits they are NOT playing the new music i want to listen [apart from a few select shows a week]

DJ Martian (djmartian), Thursday, 15 May 2003 13:37 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Lately, I've bought less records. But I assure you, it's only because I'm moving in a couple months, and money is crazy tight. Usually I buy like a madman.

MP3s do affect WHAT I buy, though. When I can download a new album that I only really want for the purposes of reviewing it, it frees up more of my money for other, often older, music that I want more. And if I download an album that I love, I buy it anyway. It's hard to have a proper affair with a CDR.

Kenan Hebert (kenan), Thursday, 15 May 2003 13:43 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I don't really think I effect anything when I download mp3s. The record companies are generally worried about people downloading the current billboard charts, and that is mostly all they care about. At least thats the way I see it, so I don't feel guilty at all for download way outofprint 80s songs et al.

A Nairn (moretap), Thursday, 15 May 2003 13:43 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

It wouldn't surprise me at all if record companies seed file-sharing networks with real AND fake tracks

Wait-- you mean they know how to use computers?!?

As far as making and spreading fakes the big record companies actually hire other companies to produce these things. That's amazing. Why don't they just get some intern to fart into a mic and label it "Nelly"?

scott m (mcd), Thursday, 15 May 2003 13:51 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

But that would be lying. And lying is as immoral as stealing.

dave225 (Dave225), Thursday, 15 May 2003 13:53 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Regarding drop in sales, lets not forget the recession going on in Amerikuh.

Aaron Grossman (aajjgg), Thursday, 15 May 2003 14:15 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I have no problem with mp3s being used to promote things, but I am currently annoyed at the plethora of wrongly attributed tracks and fake tracks that are around.

I am also annoyed by the usage of the word effect. I am only posting this to be pedantic. See the following courtesy of
Usage Note: Affect and effect have no senses in common. As a verb affect is most commonly used in the sense of “to influence” (how smoking affects health). Effect means “to bring about or execute”: layoffs designed to effect savings. Thus the sentence These measures may affect savings could imply that the measures may reduce savings that have already been realized, whereas These measures may effect savings implies that the measures will cause new savings to come about

You can tell me to effuckt off now!

marianna, Thursday, 15 May 2003 14:35 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

i buy what i can afford. that hasn't changed.

brian badword (badwords), Thursday, 15 May 2003 14:40 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

and the resale rate is close to nil. that has changed.

brian badword (badwords), Thursday, 15 May 2003 14:42 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

In regard to the moral aspect of it, have many 'big' artists who aren't like, shit complained about file-sharing? I tend to wonder how many of the people I have MP3s by would have stopped me from downloading them if they'd been able to, but as far as Metallica going 'don't you dare download our albums' goes I'm pretty much like 'Er, OK'.

The amount of people with a CD writer, a fast connection and a lot of patience isn't that high that it'd be enough to dent sales that much, is it? I tend to find that downloading an album is a last resort after finding it's out of print or hard to find. As far as new stuff goes I'll either want to buy it or only be interested enough to download a couple of the singles I could have heard anywhere anyway. If I had less disposable 'income' than I do at the moment it might be a totally different story though.

Ferg (Ferg), Thursday, 15 May 2003 15:16 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I've bought much much more but somehow I dobut any ILM poster has typical record buying habits.

original bgm, Thursday, 15 May 2003 15:18 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I blame the quality of the product, and I buy into the argument that DVDs are one of the factors cutting into CD sales. For about $20 a lot of people would rather get a Lord of the Rings 4-DVD set than some album that has one good single.

I'm not opposed to the subscription services, though.'s Rhapsody (which is owned by Real, not by the record companies) has been good to me with its selection and convenience. Someone on the board mentioned Larry Young's Lawrence of Newark and I was able to call it up and hear it on Rhapsody - which was far easier than waiting around to download it.

If the industry could speed up their digital licensing, I think that'll be the right carrot to go with their stick (which is, randomly suing the shit out of college students who swap files, like some kind of reverse lottery).

Chris Dahlen (Chris Dahlen), Thursday, 15 May 2003 15:37 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I've found that my propensity to take random chances has in fact remained the same -- ie, to buy something on the strength of a recommendation or a description. I'm not, as a general rule, checking out mp3s after something is described to me before deciding to buy it. Maybe this is something rare these days?

Ned Raggett (Ned), Thursday, 15 May 2003 15:47 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

The CD-R thing isn't really the problem - in Western Europe/US anyway where piracy-to-sell has mostly been eradicated - it's that MP3s give a 'try before you buy' element to a business which hasn't been built around one. So it's people who'd buy an album on spec who are getting it free, finding it isn't up to much and never buying it for real. (i.e. I think it's rarer Ned if not rare maybe).

Tico Tico (Tico Tico), Thursday, 15 May 2003 15:51 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

So it's people who'd buy an album on spec who are getting it free, finding it isn't up to much and never buying it for real. (i.e. I think it's rarer Ned if not rare maybe)

This has happened to me a few times.

Nicole (Nicole), Thursday, 15 May 2003 15:59 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Yeah, me too. I'm not too broken up about it.

original bgm, Thursday, 15 May 2003 16:01 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Most things I do like on mp3 I just never buy the album of at all, frankly. There is SO MUCH MUSIC out there and I am not made of money...

Ned Raggett (Ned), Thursday, 15 May 2003 16:08 (fifteen years ago) Permalink


This just sounds a bit funny coming from someone who has about 3 kajillion cds. ;-)

Nicole (Nicole), Thursday, 15 May 2003 16:21 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

every kajillion you buy, there are another 14 squillion you pass over...

g--ff c-nn-n (gcannon), Thursday, 15 May 2003 16:24 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

This just sounds a bit funny coming from someone who has about 3 kajillion cds. ;-)

But but but this is my point!

Ned Raggett (Ned), Thursday, 15 May 2003 16:30 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

i think being able to burn my friends' cd's has affected my buying purchases more than being able to D/L stuff.
mostly, i either D/L obscure shit, or really popular shit. so the obscure stuff i prob'ly wouldn't be able to find to buy (like cos it's out of print or whatever), and the popular shit i wouldn't buy anyway--this is just singles, like ludacris singles to play for shits, giggles, and dancing at parties. like imma pay money for that. i think not.

praying mantis (praying mantis), Thursday, 15 May 2003 17:01 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

A small independant record store in Richmond, Kentucky that had been around since the early 90s just went out of business a couple of weeks ago. A couple of months before it closed I was talking to the owner about mp3s and at least according to him, his sales dropped in correspondence to the mp3 boom.

The thing that he said happened all the time when people would be going through the racks and pick something, their friend would say I or x has that disc, don't get it, I will burn it for you later.

It hasn't effected my buying habits one bit, but then again I have a dial up and downloading mp3s is as slow as dirt.

I've got a friend that pretty much has never bought music. He was one of those that used to borrow CDs and make tapes and now he downloads mp3s and burns discs. I would doubt that he has ever bought any software or computer games.

earlnash, Thursday, 15 May 2003 17:14 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I have bought many records after downloading or listening to some mp3s on line, so in this way, it has worked as a selling tool to me.

earlnash, Thursday, 15 May 2003 17:15 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

g--ff c-nn-n's I think this is what makes the industry so nervous, filesharing messes with their marketing plans as well as their sales (if it really affects sales at all).

this reads right to me, or as lars said in the nightline interview during one of his 2 or 3 lucid moments, 'this isn't about money man it's about control'

the record industry's built on the premise/dream of making one album sell 5 million copies, and then cashing in on licensing the tie-in lunchboxes. they make less money when 5 records sell 1 million copies, and the future is all about 500 records selling 10,000 copies each, tinier and tinier genres splintering off and successfully finding their own micro-demographics... something that mp3's are finally enabling.

labels and radio are overcompensating in the other direction, in ways that worked for them in past decades, slimming on air playlists even further, dropping fringe artists off the roster... i.e. dooming themselves. myself, with mp3's, I'm buying more records, but they're not the records their business model depends on selling millions of copies of.

apple's changed everything with their online store; after years of record labels trying to establish $4 single downloads apple's finally offering something worth paying for. I'm not sure they can patent the technology they're using, it's a business model that the major labels will have emulated within a couple of months once they have their own watermarks figured out... there's never been a better medium for pop singles than mp3's, they'll all be happy campers before too long.

jleideck, Thursday, 15 May 2003 17:26 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

six years pass...

Retail sales of singles by format

Physical | Digital | Total Sales
2002 | 43.9m | - | 43.9m
2003 | 30.8m | - | 30.8m
2004 | 26.5m | 5.7m | 32.2m
2005 | 21.4m | 26.4m | 47.8m
2006 | 13.9m | 53.0m | 66.9m
2007 | 8.6m | 77.9m | 86.5m
2008 | 4.9m | 110.2m | 115.1m
2009 YTD | 1.6m | 116.0m | 117.6m

Source: The Official Charts Company.

modescalator (blueski), Thursday, 29 October 2009 15:49 (nine years ago) Permalink

43.9m to 1.6m in 7 years for physical sales is more striking to me than the sharp downloads increase somehow. presumably it's not as steep for albums - still over 50% drop tho i'm guessing.

modescalator (blueski), Thursday, 29 October 2009 15:52 (nine years ago) Permalink

But overall sales have quadrupled in 5 years: 2004: 32.2 mn, 2009ytd: 117.6 mn. I find that quite surprising. Did singles sales really profit that much from the mp3 format?

alex in mainhattan, Thursday, 29 October 2009 15:57 (nine years ago) Permalink

album sales presumably dropping because people are going to buy individual tracks off them if they don't like every track, right? (as one of many reasons.)

fyi vagina (a hoy hoy), Thursday, 29 October 2009 15:58 (nine years ago) Permalink

as does this just mean singles or any individual tracks bought?

fyi vagina (a hoy hoy), Thursday, 29 October 2009 15:59 (nine years ago) Permalink

Lies, damned lies, and statistics. This doesn't adjust for the dramatic drop in physical single production - you can't buy physically what doesn't exist!

Gerald McBoing-Boing, Thursday, 29 October 2009 16:09 (nine years ago) Permalink

you can't buy physically what doesn't exist!

But you can buy physically non-existing digital downloads. Maybe that is actually the solution to the economical crisis we are in!

alex in mainhattan, Thursday, 29 October 2009 16:17 (nine years ago) Permalink

This doesn't adjust for the dramatic drop in physical single production - you can't buy physically what doesn't exist!

true but what % of singles released this year included physical format - i would've thought it would still cover at least two thirds of the year's chart hits (top 40 if not 75) but no idea really

modescalator (blueski), Thursday, 29 October 2009 16:41 (nine years ago) Permalink

three years pass...

Bear in mind we're only two and a half years into the 2010's...

Mark G, Wednesday, 14 November 2012 11:03 (six years ago) Permalink

Mull of Kintyre? Wut is that?

Binders Full of Mittens (President Keyes), Wednesday, 14 November 2012 11:08 (six years ago) Permalink

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