CoreData and news.com.au have teamed up to survey more than 7,000 Australian consumers about their illegal downloading habits.
While we don’t know the full methodology, the survey is one of the largest and certainly the most current snapshot of consumer behaviour in this field.
And, for those of us who have been following the technology-related troubles of the cultural industries since Shawn Fanning invented Napster, the results should not surprise:
Most people who illegally download movies, music and TV shows would pay for them if there was a cheap and legal service as convenient as file-sharing tools like BitTorrent.
The survey canvassed the attitudes of more than 7000 people who admitted to streaming or downloading media from illegitimate sources in the past 12 months.
It found accessibility was as much or more of a motivator than money for those who illegally download media using services like BitTorrent.
More respondents said they turned to illegal downloads because they were convenient than because they were free, when it came to all three types of media covered by the survey — TV shows, movies and music.
And more than two-thirds said they would pay for downloads from a legitimate service that was just as convenient if it existed.
The hypothetical legitimate service was described as giving users access to TV shows, movies and music they wanted, when they wanted them, without ads or copy protection.
This survey is more evidence, if any more were needed, that the key barrier to a paid content future remains industrial competition and the strategic errors of big cultural businesses, rather than the rampant illegality of ordinary consumers.
Of course, some will protest that consumers are simply lying in such a survey. But a more convincing explanation is that the cultural industries are yet to give consumers exactly what they want, and that this explains the slow uptake in digital content payments. It’s also another example of the problem of rivalry and excludability in the content industries: compare the prices Australian consumers say they are prepared to pay for downloaded movies (approximately $2 dollars) to the average admission price of a cinema ticket here (as high has $17 for a first-release movie). You don’t need an MBA to see the revenue gap there.
Can studios and record labels make money on prices like these? Of course they can, especially if new business models are created. But that’s not what Big Content will tell you. They’ll use data like this to lobby for more stringent industry protections, in the form of draconian copyright legislation and other anti-competitive regulations.