Taste in music has become far more diverse because of the internet, which is revolutionising the way consumers buy songs, according to research published on Monday.
But efforts by the entertainment industry to curb illegal sharing of copyrighted material may be losing their effect, with a slowdown in the growth of legally downloaded music last year.
More than half of internet users surveyed by Entertainment Media Research and the law firm Olswang said they surfed social networking sites such as MySpace and YouTube specifically to come across new songs. Up to three-quarters of MySpace users said they had at least occasionally come across music that they subsequently wanted to obtain for themselves when listening to the taste of others. Almost a third bought CDs or legal downloads of those songs.
Russell Hart, chief executive of Entertainment Media Research, said: "Social networks are fundamentally changing the way wediscover, purchase and use music. The dynamics of democratisation, word-of-mouth recommendation and instant purchase challenge the established order and offer huge opportunities to forward-thinking businesses."
But the research also found that the expansion of legal downloading slowed dramatically last year.
Copyright holders had hoped that rapprochement with formerly rogue sites such as Napster, following lengthy legal battles, would establish legal downloading as the norm.
But although legal usage grew by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2006, the past 12 months saw an increase of only 16 per cent. That still means that almost six in 10 of all music consumers are downloading music from the internet as a way of adding to their collections, but the trend seems to be slowing.
The survey's authors suggest this could reflect a resurgence in piracy or that consumers now believe downloading is not such a bargain when compared with CDs. A third factor may be that digital rights management software, which prevents people from distributing songs as computer files, are putting off fans.
"As illegal downloading hits an all-time high and consumers' fear of prosecution falls, the music industry must look for more ways to encourage the public to download music legally," John Enser, head of music at Olswang, said.
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