- 16 Jul 09, 08:52 GMT
Is it possible that the music industry has finally spotted the light at the end of the tunnel - and it's not the flashing light on the oncoming Pirate Express locomotive?
This week a big piece of research has come up with two startling conclusions - that illegal downloading amongst young music fans has actually gone into a decline, and that the CD is still the most popular format, even amongst teenagers, and is not ready to be sent to the digital graveyard just yet.
The research, by a media agency The Leading Question and a digital music consultancy Music Ally, questioned 2,000 music fans about their habits.
It found that 73% of them preferred CDs to downloads, and even amongst teenagers the figure was 66%. But what the industry will really latch onto is the figures from the same survey released earlier this week.
They showed that the percentage of fans file-sharing had fallen 22% in the same survey in December 2007 to 17% in January 2009. And the fall amongst 14-18 year olds was much more dramatic - down from 42% to just 26%
The conclusion drawn by the researchers is that habits amongst those digitally aware consumers who don't buy CDs are changing - they're moving from downloading illegally to streaming legally.
They're still not paying for online music then, but at least they're using legitimate services. And here in the UK, it's one business, Spotify, which is getting a lot of the credit for that change.
The ad-supported streaming service was among those involved in a debate in London last night about the future of music entitled "Who Pays the Piper?". Like many such events, it reached no firm conclusion.
On the one hand, the new media types trotted out their usual refrain about the glacial pace of music industry change - and showed a touching faith in the likelihood that advertising and gaming would pay for us all to have free music.
On the other, we heard a counterblast from Helienne Lindvall, a Swedish songwriter and music blogger, who lashed out at the Pirate Bay, YouTube and last.fm for profiting from music without being willing to reward artists.
Overall, there was a sense that progress was finally being made in the search for a business model which would work for the artists, the labels - and the fans. But there were a couple of sobering moments.
First the audience was asked who had used Spotify - everyone in the room put a hand up. But when we were asked who had paid for the premium service (unless that takes off Spotify is unlikely to have a long-term future) and just one hand went up.
And there was a sobering message from an American in the audience who claimed to have spent decades in the industry, from a spell as Little Richard's PR man to a role in a new legal version of Pirate Bay. "Everyone has overvalued the music," he told us, "it's not worth as much as content owners think it is." That seems indisputable - the days of the £15 CD are now a distant memory and music market deflation probably has some way to go.
But industry bosses think they've finally started coming up with services that might woo young users away from the likes of Limewire and Pirate Bay. All they have to do now is find advertisers - and consumers - willing to pay for the music.
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