Poll: Downloaders Buying CDs

Eighty-two percent of music fans say they shop at retail stores

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Is file sharing to blame for the decline in CD sales? Maybe not. A new Rolling Stone online survey of 1,300 readers between the ages of sixteen and twenty-nine finds that while fifty-four percent of them use file-sharing services regularly, eighty-two percent still buy most of their music at retail stores. Additional interviews with forty college-age music fans in New York, Chicago, St. Louis and Boulder, Colorado, confirm that file sharing and CD shopping are largely seen as complementary activities. Eighty percent of those polled say that they're drawn to file sharing because the music is free; but sixty percent say that retail stores offer better service, and most people say they miss CD packaging when they download. Other findings:

Downloading is for singles, not albums

Sixty-one percent of respondents say they get their music from legal sources more often than from renegade peer-to-peer services such as Kazaa and LimeWire. File sharing is often used to find new artists: Illegal downloading ranked second only to radio as the best way to find new music; seventy-seven percent say that they go to file-sharing networks for the selection. "I've kind of gotten in the habit of downloading," says Dan McIntosh, an eighteen-year-old University of Colorado freshman and frequent dorm-room Kazaa user who buys about one CD per week. "It's usually a lot easier. But if a band that I respect comes out with a CD, I'll buy it." Albums with only one or two worthwhile songs are less likely to be purchased. "You don't always want the whole CD," says Amy Schwarz, 20, a student at Washington University in St. Louis. "Sometimes you want a specific song."

iTunes is for soccer moms

Just three percent of the Rolling Stone readers surveyed acknowledge buying most of their music from a download site, and the majority say that paying for songs online has drawbacks. The leading complaint, mentioned by fifty-two percent: price. Older downloaders don't seem bothered by the ninety-nine-cent song fees (or eighty-eight cents at Walmart.com); according to BigChampagne CEO Eric Garland, pay-to-download Top Ten lists "skew much older" than those on Kazaa and LimeWire. "You see a lot of Coldplay, Norah Jones and U2," he says. But while none of the download services release age-based sales numbers, our survey shows that young downloaders have grown accustomed to free music. "Any band I look up, they always have a good amount of results -- plus, there's the money issue," says McIntosh. "I'm not going to pay for singles," says Casey Baker, a twenty-one-year-old student at Northwestern University. "If I'm going to pay for music, I'm going to buy an album that I want to listen to."

Where's the artwork?

Seventy-eight percent of respondents say they miss the CD liner notes and cover artwork on albums they've downloaded. "I think there's a need for things that are collectible," says Sharon Mozgai, 23, a graduate student at New York University. "People always search out a good record, especially if the cover art is good." Adds Kate Chudnovsky, a nineteen-year-old Northwestern student, "I like the CD and CD case and flipping through all the pictures."

Lawsuits don't scare us

Of the 650 respondents who answered the question "If you don't use peer-to-peer, why not?" sixty-nine percent said the recording industry's lawsuits had nothing to do with their decision. Peter Stach, a nineteen-year-old student at Northwestern, even says that the lawsuits persuaded him to stop buying CDs. "I'm just angry at the fact that [record labels] are coming after people," he says. Regular file sharers seem unconcerned, as well. "Illegal is convenient," says Sean Reisman, a twenty-one-year-old student at NYU. "I don't put too much thought into it."

Sound quality matters

Of the respondents who don't use peer-to-peer services, forty-six percent cite "quality of files" as the reason. Forrester Research predicts digital-download sales will jump from $256 million this year to $2.1 billion in 2007 -- and quality will likely play a key role in the industry's growth. File-sharing services are "shady," says Stach. "You honestly don't know what you are getting a lot of the time. It's kind of scary. You don't want to download something and then end up with something with a porn soundtrack in the background."