“The Problem”

…is not so much with music downloading, it’s with the math.

Let’s look at this piece from yesterday’s Star, shall we?


Sales of CDs are down 20 per cent worldwide and 35 per cent in Canada, compared to 2006.

An estimated 1.6 billion music files are downloaded in Canada each year on “grey-market” peer-to-peer systems, representing $1.6 billion in lost revenue, using the iTunes price model of 99 cents per download.

Well, if you do the math correctly it would be $1.584 billion. Let’s not shove that extra $16 million in there.

But first, can we see some proof that lost CD sales are in some tangible way related to peer-to-peer sharing? Because just putting those two sentences side-by-side isn’t doing it for me.

…oh, hang on, there is no proof. The data say something else entirely. Digital distribution has been good for Canada’s music industry. (Alright, that’s 2005 data, but I don’t imagine the expense end of the equation has altered all that much in the last year or two, and the data below are also from 2005.)

And again with the oft-repeated falsehood that one peer-to-peer download = one lost sale. Two problems here.

  1. People will always try things for free that they wouldn’t risk even 99 cents to purchase. What’s the real proportion of peer-downloaded tracks to tracks that would otherwise have been purchased? I have no idea; if anyone has any real data I’d be curious to see it. My money says it’s pretty far from 1:1.
  2. How many people acquire one track for free and then go on to purchase more tracks from the same artist? Again, I have no good data source, but my money says it’s not likely to be zero.

Virtually every song ever recorded is available through peer-to-peer file-sharing (more than 79 million recordings). Only 3 million songs are available on legal sites.

This implies all peer-to-peer file sharing is not legal. Not so. There’s material there that’s past copyright expiry. As well, lots of artists allow their stuff to be shared freely. How much is there legally? These sources are certainly not going to tell us:

Sources: Songwriters Association of Canada; Canadian Record Industry Association; PricewaterhouseCoopers LLB

Just for fun, Toronto Star, next time how ’bout consulting some sources that aren’t just corporate bumf?

If this pathetic mishmash of lies and innumeracy is the best the industry can do, no wonder they keep turning out craptastic music that nobody wants to buy.