Downloads Discourage Musicians?

As the Recording Industry Association of America continues its campaign against illegal downloading and its effect on the music industry, the agency is saying “I told you so” after two researchers who previously said illegal downloading doesn’t hurt album sales have reportedly changed their tune.

The RIAA’s July 19 Music Notes blog says professors Felix Oberholzer-Gee of Harvard University and Koleman Strumpf of University of Kansas deduced in a 46-page, Jan. 12 report, “The majority of studies find that file sharing reduces sales, with estimated displacement rates ranging 3.5 percent for movies (Rob and Waldfogel 2007) to rates as high as 30 percent for music (Zentner, 2006).”

The RIAA blog takes that opinion further by looking at a different angle to make its point. Although the professors’ report says Nielsen SoundScan data since 2000 shows “the annual release of new music albums has more than doubled,” the RIAA thinks data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is more accurate.

“More compelling, when data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on the number of people employed under the category of ‘musical groups and artists’[category number 71113 on the BLS website] is compared with music sales, a strong correlation is evident,’” the blog says. “What does this show? Selling music is an important motivator to creating music, and that the decline in sales has correlated with fewer people making a living in music.”

The theory makes sense but brings up another question: Do those labor statistics include musicians who regularly perform and release albums on their own while holding full-time jobs?