Money College: Downloads, piracy still a thorn for music industry

Money College music downloadsNear the start of the new century, the Internet gave us Napster, the peer-to-peer network that allowed people to trade and download songs and albums for free, illegally of course.

Since then, the way people purchase music has been altered and the music industry has taken notice. In 2007, the giant bittorrent sharing Web site, Oink's Pink Palace, which also allowed users to illegally download music, was shut down by the RIAA, or Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group that represents the music industry.

Yet Web sites similar to Napster and Oink still exist today and the RIAA says that "global music piracy causes $12.5 billion of economic losses every year, 71,060 U.S. jobs lost, a loss of $2.7 billion in workers' earnings, and a loss of $422 million in tax revenues, $291 million in personal income tax and $131 million in lost corporate income and production taxes." (Still, those statistics hardly take into account how many musicians got ripped off over the decades by the music industry.)

The change has forced artists to find creative ways to get their albums to sell. So in 2007, the UK alternative rock band Radiohead, self-released its album "In Rainbows," allowing fans to download the album and pay as much (or as little) as they wanted. The experiment was an unparalleled success, yet the music industry proper has been slow -- even stubborn -- to conduct such experiments on its own.

So where are college kids getting their music? Statistics from Nielsen Soundscan say that 2009 U.S. music purchases are up but only rose 2% from 2008. Digital music sales alone made up 40% of the total U.S. music purchases. Digital albums rose 16% in 2009 and digital tracks rose about 8% while total album sales (which includes both digital and physical albums) dropped almost 13%.

Yet vinyl had a great year and rocketed in 2009, as sales rose 33% -- chalk that up to a combination of nostalgia, as lots of college students grew up with the parents' album collections, and the superior sound quality compared to MP3. Still, the MP3 has become the new gold standard, and the way most college students buy and trade their music.

The RIAA acknowledges that "college students are some of the most avid music fans" and it is no secret that millions of college students around the country illegally download music. The RIAA has set up agreements with colleges in the country to prevent any illegal downloading, hoping to cut down on piracy. A 2007 article by Associated Content details how 61 University of Nebraska students were caught illegally downloading music and sued by the RIAA, with osme paying thousands of dollars in settlement costs.

I talked to a few local college students (anonymously, of course) and asked how they get their music.

"The last CD I bought was some Amerie album when I was a freshman in college," says one Worcester State College senior. "I [illegally] download music frequently -- about once or twice a week. I don't feel bad about it because everyone does it. I know it is hurting artist sales, but what can you do? I do it because it's free and really easy. It's gotten to the point where you can put any song into Google and it comes up to download. I think it has become less taboo and more accessible."

Another Worcester State College senior admits to illegally downloading music once or twice a week. "I actually just started downloading music when a friend taught me," says the student. "The last CD I bought was in late summer and it was Lady GaGa's 'The Fame.' I think its fine to illegally download music. I want to save money because I'm a poor college student and the industry makes a lot of money. Too much."

The RIAA acknowledges that illegally downloading programs and websites will always be around and though they are trying to control it with fear, it seems like a war they cannot win. Apple's iTunes Store sells songs for about .99 cents a pop. Currently, in my iTunes player I have 4,050 songs which means I would have had to spent $4,009.50 for my music library, which to me seems a ridiculously high price for anyone to pay for music.

The best selling album of 2009 was Taylor Swift's "Fearless," according to Billboard, selling 3,217,000 copies. Both Amazon and Walmart sell the hit pop album for $9.97. Target prices the album a little higher at $11.98 and at Best Buy the album goes for $13.99.

But when you can type a few words into a Google search or open up a program and in a matter of minuets have the CD that you want for free, who is really going to blow even $9.97 for the same thing? Not a broke college student, that's for sure.
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