Older adults becoming music swappers
By Jefferson Graham
"When you buy a CD at the store, you've spent all this money but probably only like three songs," she said. "This way, I get just the songs I like, without having to press fast-forward."
Zdory isn't a high school or college student, the demographic of the majority of music downloaders. She's a 49-year-old bookkeeper for a Los Angeles law firm and the mother of a 14-year-old boy.
And she's a prime example of the real woes that face the music world. The passion for free song swapping is spreading from the core audience of teenagers and college students to adults like Zdory. A sizable chunk of her age group, too, is making downloaded music as regular a part of their lives as morning coffee and rush-hour commutes.
According to a new study from researchers Ipsos-Reid, more than 61 million people in the United States say they have downloaded songs onto their PC from the Internet.
The young are the most avid users: More than 60 percent of those 12 to 24 years old(about 30 million total) download music. But 38 percent of those age 25 to 34 and 19 percent of age 35 to 54 (more than 28 million combined) also swap music.
"The youth are driving this in terms of frequency and adoption, but the older age groups are becoming more comfortable with it," said Ipsos-Reid's Matt Kleinschmit. "The mass market is getting comfortable downloading music."
With the rise in popularity of online song-trading sites, record sales have taken a tumble. The Recording Industry Association of America said shipments of CDs fell 7 percent in the first half of 2002.
High-profile artists such as Britney Spears, Stevie Wonder and the Dixie Chicks have been spotlighted in a recent RIAA ad campaign to educate the public that downloading music is akin to stealing. But computer users such as Zdory aren't convinced.
"The music industry did this to themselves," she said. "CDs cost too much money, and concert tickets are totally out of whack. If things weren't so expensive, people wouldn't be going to these alternative methods to get music."
Kevin Grant, 44, said trading sites have made him more interested than ever in music. "I use my PC like my parents used their stereo," said Grant, who works for a Los Angeles insurance firm. "I have 600 MP3s on my hard drive, and I just leave it on all weekend."
He uses KaZaA as a tool to find acts and music he hasn't heard of, and to pick up obscure music from the 1980s that's no longer in stores. "Radio's so bland and predictable these days," he said. "This is the only way to discover new music."
Said Raymond James analyst Phil Leigh: "KaZaA is on 157 million computers, with a typical daily usage of 3 million users. AOL's (daily) peak is around 6 million. That shows downloading music is a daily part of life."
Ipsos-Reid found some slight good news for the labels: 31 percent of the downloaders interviewed said they had paid for at least some of their music, up from 27 percent in the spring. That reflects in part the gradual growth of industry-backed music subscription sites Pressplay (www.pressplay.com) and MusicNet.
After slow starts with limited offerings and onerous usage restrictions no CD burning and no song transfers to portable players the services now offer music from all major labels. MusicNet claims 125,000 songs, Pressplay 175,000, but there still are huge gaps with no titles by such artists as The Beatles, Rolling Stones or Nirvana. Beyond subscriptions, Universal recently put 40,000 songs up for sale online at 99 cents each.
Even though record companies continue to win court battles against file-sharing services, new ones keep popping up, noted Leigh: "They're winning the war, but losing on the battlefield."
Leigh doesn't see consumer behavior changing until the industry gets even more aggressive, singling out individual consumers for downloading and rolling out copy-protected CDs widely.