Peter Kafka

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Digital Music Sales Grow Worldwide, but Big Music Still Frets About Pirates

Give people a choice, and they might pay for digital music, after all.

Also, it helps if they can’t steal it.

That’s the takeaway from a new survey from the IFPI, the music industry’s global trade group. It says global digital music sales grew 8 percent last year; that’s the first time that growth rate has increased since 2004, when the IFPI started tracking the statistic.

A good chunk of that increase may have come from subscription music services like Spotify and Deezer. The IFPI says subscription services have 13 million paying users, up from eight million last year.* There are also smaller increases in sales at more conventional outlets like Apple and Amazon, which generate much more revenue for the industry overall.

And while digital music sales still make up a minority of the music industry’s revenue worldwide, they are increasingly important: They now account for 32 percent of sales, up from 29 percent last year. (In the U.S., digital just edged physical last year, for the first time.)

All of which sounds fairly straightforward. But the IFPI is a trade group; it wants to hammer at one of its key points, which is that piracy is a big problem for the industry, which has seen sales cut in half since the Napster era. It figures more than a quarter of all Web users “access unauthorized services on a monthly basis.”

So, if piracy is a problem, why are sales increasing? In part, the trade group argues, because of anti-piracy legislation and industry moves.

The report highlights France’s “three strikes” rule, which allows the government to fine pirates and take away their Internet access. It cites a study arguing that French iTunes sales have increased more than 20 percent because of the policy, and the suggestion is clear: This would be a good idea worldwide.

The IFPI, which has singled out Google for criticism in the past, once again complains that the search engine makes it too easy to find illegal stuff. It also clearly went to the printer before the weekend, because its report refers to SOPA/PIPA as works in progress that are “set to be debated further in early 2012.”

*That number sounds several million high to me, but perhaps my rough estimate is missing a couple of big players.

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