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How we acquire music

A recent NPD survey shows that U.S. consumers over the age of 13 buy less than 50 percent of their music, with the rest of it coming from file-sharing services and borrowed CDs.

A recent NPD survey cited by the New York Times' Bits blog confirms what I've suspected for a long time: the record industry's campaign against file-sharing sites is not only ineffective, but misguided. According to the survey, 19 percent of the music in consumers' collections comes from file-sharing networks. That's up 5 percent from last year--in other words, lawsuits and education campaigns have so far been ineffective.

But 38 percent of music listeners' collections come from CDs that they borrowed, then ripped to their hard drive or burned to a CD-R. (I'm not sure why NPD made the distinction between ripped and burned. I suppose it's academically interesting--ripped CDs are presumably listened to on MP3 players or computers, while burned CDs can be listened to in CD players.) In other words, file-sharing networks aren't the primary cause of declining CD sales--copied CDs are. That behavior's impossible to stamp out, and adding copy-protection software to CDs is not a viable solution--it's either ineffective or exercises too much controlover the user's computer, leading to potential PR nightmares and even legal liability.

85% of the music on my Zune was recorded from a CD or LP that I legitimately own. Most of the rest comes from CDs I borrowed and ripped.

Just to satisfy my own curiosity, I took a quick look through my Zune 30, which is my primary personal MP3 player (the iPod has more family stuff on it), and catalogued my own digital music collection by origin. Here's how it stacked up:
• 2,714 songs (85 percent) from a CD or LP purchased by me or given to me as a gift.
• 439 songs (14 percent) acquired from somebody else without payment--a CD I borrowed and ripped, or that was burned for me by a friend, or given to me as digital files on a flash drive.
• 47 songs (1 percent) downloaded from an approved Internet source, such as the Zune Marketplace.
• 10 songs (<1 percent) downloaded for free from non-industry-approved Internet sources.

Obviously, I'm not a normal music consumer. I'm almost 40 years old, so much of my collection stems from the pre-Internet days, when the only real way to get music was to buy it. The question is, how does the industry make the average user look more like me? I don't know the answer, although lowering prices on CDs or promoting vinyl (which is harder to rip) with codes for one-time digital downloads might help. One area where I don't look like the ideal consumer is with digital downloads: I'm at far less than the average 10 percent. I might buy more music online if (a.) it were in a format that could be used on both my iPod and my Zune (b.) online catalogs were deeper, with more obscurities, no black-outs for long songs, and so on.