What if someone told you that illegal file-sharers are actually the music industry’s best customers?

Well, that’s a claim recently put forward by file-sharing site TorrentFreak based on consumption habits in the United States and Germany. Illegal downloads and music piracy have long plagued the industry and it’s a global issue that is increasingly being discussed and analysed.

The major labels and industry experts may have us believe that the more music people pirate, the less they buy, however, that might not be the case.

A study by the The American Assembly details a surprising trend. The research took into account the music collections of varying age groups throughout the US and Germany. Most importantly, the study focused on the sources of those collections and the file-sharing habits of those involved.

The study reveals that “the biggest music pirates are also the biggest spenders on recorded music,” said Joe Karaganis, The American Assembly Vice President.

It was revealed that US peer-to-peer (P2P) users purchased 30% more music than their non-P2P counterparts, while German file sharers purchased three times as much as non-sharers.

There’s a full statistical breakdown over at The American Assembly website, but essentially the unique survey’s figures demonstrate that the illegal copying, sharing and downloading of music makes up a surprisingly smaller part of how people obtain their music collections than we might think, while officially bought downloads makes up nearly 50% in the 8-29 bracket, holding steady across age demographics before peaking at 63% at people aged 65-years-old and over.

While in Germany’s figures those stats are lower, officially bought music still makes up at least a third of people’s music collections from the ages of 18 to 70 and over.

The news follows last month’s discovery that Australians download music illegally more by population than any other country, these latest findings suggest that we may not all be dirty music swindlers after all.

But, how does one explain this weird trend?

TorrentFreak explains that a “likely explanation for these results is that true music enthusiasts simply want to consume, sample and discover as much new music as they possibly can.” Following this logic, it seems that P2P sharers are more likely to be greater music fans and thus more likely to value music more highly than those who don’t engage in file sharing – confirming an attitude that many music fans have long stood by.

That’s not to say that all illegal downloading is to be met with a pat on the back for being a real music fan. As with any business, buying music is still an integral part of the industry – besides another recent report suggests that music is cheaper to purchase now than it’s ever been.

However, those predicting an industry apocalypse based on the rate of illegal downloads, as the record labels would you have you believe (which may not be altogether accurate anyway), many may find comfort in the fact that file-sharers are still willing to pay for music.

This is backed up by evidence that digital sales have been rising throughout the year and are set to keep climbing. Earlier in the month, it looked as if digital album sales in the US were set to break records whilst digital downloads had already outstripped physical sales in the UK for the first time.

Undoubtedly, there will continue to be countless studies into the global patterns of digital downloading. Whether these studies will actually have any effect on the downloading habits of music listeners is a little harder to predict.

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