Industry study links downloads to CD sales drop -- Many of those who file share say they buy less music, according to a study commissioned by the RIAA

For the last couple of years, the music industry’s top lobbying group, the Recording Industry Association of America, has insisted that there’s a link between free music downloads and slumping CD sales. Now, the RIAA has commissioned a study that it says proves that contention. The study, a telephone poll by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, found that, among respondents who said they downloaded music, those who said they were buying less music outnumbered by 2 to 1 those who said they were buying more.

The study, as detailed in an RIAA statement, found that 52 percent of the 860 respondents were downloading and burning MP3 files onto blank CDs, up from 43 percent last year. Of those downloaders, 41 percent said they were buying less music, while half that many, 19 percent, said they were buying more. The study comes on the heels of a report by accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers that said music sales are down 7 percent for the first six months of 2002, compared to a drop of 5.3 percent during the same period last year.

Still, those numbers would seem to indicate that 59 percent of downloaders were buying as much or more music as last year, and that only 21 percent of all respondents were file-swapping and buying less music. ”I would not argue that downloading and copying are the only factors at work,” Geoff Garin, chief executive of Hart Research, told Reuters. His survey did not take into account customer dissatisfaction with the high price of CDs, the quality of new music being released, or the lack of legal download services that are inexpensive and easy to use. ”But we have clear evidence that downloading and copying do not have a favorable effect on record sales,” Garin said.

A study conducted by Forrester Research concluded earlier this month that there was no link between file-swapping and the industry sales slump. In any case, such studies are of little value, Digital Media Association executive director Jonathan Potter told Reuters. ”Until the record companies offer their content ubiquitously in a consumer friendly way, studies like this are useless,” he said. He dismissed the RIAA contention that consumers won’t pay retail prices for a product as long as it’s available for free. ”I’d like to introduce the recording industry to something called bottled water,” Potter said. ”The point is if there were a high quality product that was affordable and available across multiple services, they would be able to defeat the free services.”