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Fully Equipped: How much would you pay for a digital album?

With reports that 95 percent of all digital-music downloads are unauthorized, free copies, David Carnoy asks the question: how much are people actually willing to pay to go the legal route for acquiring music?

When you hear about the music industry these days, there are often figures claiming that digital music downloads--led by new initiatives from the likes of Amazon, Nokia, MySpace, and, of course, Apple--are up year over year by more than 25 percent, and now account for about 20 percent of overall music sales. But let's get the numbers straight. Despite some bright spots, the vast majority of digital downloads are unauthorized and cost nothing.

In fact, a recent report by IFPI, a body that promotes and "safeguards" digital music, says that in 2008 a whopping 95 percent of all music downloads were illegal. Sure, IFPI has an interest in perhaps inflating that stat a bit, but judging from what I've seen out there, I'd say it's still a very high percentage.

No difference: U2's upcoming album No Line on the Horizon will likely cost the same as a CD or digital download--and that doesn't make sense. Wikipedia

You've probably heard about how the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)--and now IFPI--are strongly encouraging ISPs to police digital downloads and bring pirate networks to their knees. There's talk of throttling bandwidth and even more draconian measures, which a lot of consumers aren't too happy about, especially ones who don't like their ISPs to begin with.

All that said, let's pretend for a moment that in some highly improbable scenario, someone or something manages to get pirating totally under control and people are left having to pay for their music. Would sales suddenly take off? Would all be well again in the music industry?

Probably not. The problem is--and has always been ever since digital downloads emerged--that the digital stuff is way too expensive, and that's made a lot of folks feel the music industry is out to rip them off.

Read the full column.