Music Downloads Surpass Retail Purchases

Nearly 30 million American adults have downloaded music files over the Internet, making it one of the fastest growing Internet activities in the past six months, especially among men, according to surveys by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The Pew studies found that between July and August 2000 and February 2001, the number of American adults who have downloaded music online shot up more than 40 percent. In all, 29 percent of adult Internet users say they have downloaded music, a proportion that has grown from 22 percent in the summer of 2000. More than half (51 percent) of those between ages 18 and 29 who have Internet access have downloaded music files.

Fifty-three percent of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 have also downloaded music files — that represents more than 7 million youth who have retrieved music files to their computers’ hard drives. Downloading music is especially popular with older teenage boys. Almost three-quarters of boys ages 15 to 17 with Internet access have downloaded music files.

“We see across-the-board growth in music downloading among all kinds of Internet users,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project. “The legal struggles involving Napster have hardly dampened the public’s appetite for this new way of getting music.”

In the six months from August 2000 to February 2001, music downloading became an increasingly regular activity for Internet users. The number of adult American Internet users downloading music on any given day doubled to more than 6 million — twice the number of Internet users buying retail products online on any given day and equal to the number seeking health information on the Web or looking for travel information.

Perhaps the appeal that downloadable music has over other retail goods is its price tag — often it is free. A Pew study issued last year found that more than three-quarters of adult Internet users (79 percent) who download music get the files off the Internet for free. But 69 percent said that at least on occasion they end up purchasing music they have downloaded. At the same time, the vast majority of music downloaders also said they did not frequently purchase the music they got for free on the Internet.

That survey also found 61 percent of those who downloaded music said they did not care much about the copyright status of the music they retrieved online, while 31 percent said they did care if the music they downloaded was copyrighted.

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