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NPD: Mac users saving music business

According to a survey, Mac users are much more likely to have purchased a song online in recent months than their Windows counterparts, but does that really mean Apple's growing market show will translate into booming business for music companies?

It's a good thing the music industry has Mac users, according to The NPD Group.

That's because according to a survey conducted by the market research firm, Mac users are more likely to pay to download music--and buy CDs--than Windows users. "There's still a cultural divide between Apple consumers and the rest of the computing world, and that's especially apparent when it comes to the way they interact with music," said Russ Crupnick, an analyst with NPD, in a press release.

The guy on the left doesn't seem to like music as much as the guy on the right, according to NPD. Apple

The data says that 50 percent of all Mac users surveyed by NPD purchased at least one song during the third quarter, while only 16 percent of Windows users purchased a song from an online music store. And 32 percent of Mac users bought a CD during that same time, while just 28 percent of Windows users did so.

NPD says this means Mac users are "more active" when it comes to digital music than their PC counterparts. It also says that the data "helps debunk the myth that digital music consumers stop buying music in CD format."

So, what conclusion should we draw, then? Mac users are more honest than piracy-loving Windows users? Mac users are more satisfied with the current craptacular state of popular music than Windows users? NPD has a vested interest in keeping one of its clients happy with press releases such as this one, which basically reinforces Apple's branding as the computer company for cool creative people?

The whole "Mac users are younger/smarter/richer/better looking" argument has been going on for years, and while there is some demographic data to support parts of that debate, it seems a bit too much to assert that a "cultural divide" is responsible for the tendency of Mac users to buy music more frequently than Windows users. I thought Peter Kafka at Silicon Valley Insider made the obvious point that the survey did not: iTunes is bundled with Macs. I'm willing to accept the premise that people buy Macs with entertainment applications in mind, but does this conclusion from the press release really make sense? "Apple's growing share in the personal computing environment--and continued success with iPod sales--is a potential harbinger for the continued growth of digital music."

If Apple's Mac market share were to increase to say 20 percent--which would be about in line with market leader Hewlett-Packard's share--would that mean that all those former Windows users who didn't want to pay to download digital music would suddenly see the light and turn into online music shoppers simply because they switched to a Mac and jumped that "cultural divide?" It's not like the Windows world doesn't have options for legally purchasing and organizing music online; in fact, Apple offers the most popular one. That statement seems to be saying that the computer, not the person using it or even the songs themselves, is the thing that drives digital music sales, and I find that hard to believe.

Anyway, for the record, NPD said that Apple did not commission the study nor had anything to do with its content or conclusions. An NPD representative said "the Apple info we included in the press release consisted of just a few small nuggets in the overall report that (analysts) thought might get some press coverage during the dog days of the holidays, that's all." Fair enough, although I'm going to be really skeptical if the next report is entitled: "Survey: Mac users more likely to get dates, consistently hit jump shots."