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April 13, 2005
More Science, More Evidence
A couple weeks ago I caught a bit of comment flak when I argued that the science being done simply does not support the contention that P2P file sharing hurts artists. For those who missed Donna's nod to it, I want to draw more attention to Michael Geist's First Monday piece on peer-to-peer myths.
I admit I'm biased: I like Geist's work, I'm impressed by the diligence he's shown in dogging this issue over the past year, and his study is solidly in agreement with my speculations and intuitions. In particular, he points out that not only is there no evidence that the Canadian recording industry has sustained significant financial losses in recent years due to decreased music sales, there's no evidence that losses have harmed Canadian artists.
Like many researchers, Geist begins with the industry's own numbers - something mainstream media seems incapable of doing - and notes that via simple calculation one can put the lie to industry's vastly exaggerated loss figures. The industry itself seems to be capable of doing better science, but when the answers come out in ways they don't like, they suppress the findings. Geist notes both an Economist story (subscription required) and a Canadian government study supporting this claim of suppression. Shades of tobacco industry and global warming denial.
Geist's report also notes the kind of phenomena that should be analyzed if one wants to understand the change in the music landscape:
- the influence of DVDs
- the rise of big-box retail chains, which carry much smaller inventories of CDs
- economic downturn
- changes in personal habits away from CD-based music and towards other entertainment forms
And so on and so on. Geist is also not hesitant to point out the simple contradictions in industry claims versus actual performance. I think it's worth echoing his conclusions one more time, if only because this is a message that is just not stated frequently or forcefully enough:
downloading is not responsible for the ills of the music industry and Canadian artists have not been harmed by the sales declines that have occurred over the past five years.
Until we can move past this wall of denial and lies I don't know how we'll make any progress.
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