Music and the Internets, Part 247: Illegal Downloaders Buy More Music, Google 'Payola'



You may have already seen that yet another study (this one an independent survey in Britain) concludes that people who steal a lot of music also buy a lot of music. As Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing put it: "[P]eople who are music superfans do more of everything to do with music: they see more live shows, listen to more radio, buy more CDs, buy more botlegs of live shows, buy more t-shirts, talk about music more, do more downloading -- all of it." Very good. The music industry's response? "[A]nyone who lives in a house that generates three or more copyright infringement notices will be barred from Internet access," according to Doctorow. In other words, go after the people who are buying the most music because they are, at the same time, stealing it. If these were cars we were talking about, and not digital files, that might seem like the right strategy. But this the 21st century of music consumption, even if some people don't want to think it is.

Speaking of the 21st century of music consumption, Google announced last week that they're changing the way music search results come up:

[T]wo of the top 10 queries in the U.S. are music-related. But often, if your answer is in a song, it can take a while to get there. We call this "time to result" -- and we're always looking for ways to reduce it.

Today, we're rolling out a search feature that does just that by enabling you to search and more easily discover millions of songs, all via a simple Google web search. If you're searching for music, "time to result" is really "time to music." Now, when you enter a music-related query -- like the name of a song, artist or album -- your search results will include links to an audio preview of those songs provided by our music search partners MySpace (which just acquired iLike) or Lala.

David Kusek over at Music Power Network thinks this is bad--bullshitk, even--and, really, not unlike payola. (A legal form of payola still goes on at radio, but that's a topic for another day.) Here's Kusek:

Google is now going to serve up links to songs from major online retailers at the top of it's [sic] search page, whenever you search on a song name, or artist name, or lyric. It will let you play the song once, and then take you to an option to purchase the song or subscribe to a major music service. The other search results are pushed down the page. Except for the ads, of course.

Hey, wait a second, isn't that prioritizing sponsored searches without saying it's prioritizing sponsored searches?

Can't sell CDs so let's make 'em buy downloads. Haven't you guys heard about the future of music? The per-track model is not sustainable. The game is already over and there is no going back.

Cell phone companies don't charge by the call, they sell buckets of minutes and all you can eat plans. Have you checked the popularity of land-based phone services lately? Digital Music will follow the same path.

Music like water is the future. Not control but limitless access. It's already there on Bing and other search engines, just now a little further down on the Google page. What is Google up to here?

Yes, the future! The future! It's the 21st century!

Why should a song file from an "online retailer" come up first in search results instead of the band's own web site? How fair is that? What is this going to do to online strategies for bands? I thought the Internet was supposed to create a level playing field? And, surely Google is going to be serving up ads on these pages. How will the ads appear in the search results and how does that money get split up?


[Google] and their new friends are now going to drive "music related search" towards major label owned My Space, Gracenote and LaLa services, rather than to the artist sites directly. In this regard they are directly at odds with recent trends in music, such as labels dumping artists left and right, artists moving away from major label distribution channels towards direct to fan models, and the growing power of online marketing strategies and social media. So much for organic search and link relevance.

Does a band actually have to buy an ad now in order to be above the fold in Google search results? Is the only way to be at the top of the page to sign a deal with a major label or online retailer? Is this beginning to sound familiar? Am I the only one who is pissed off about this? Come on people, speak up.

Is he the only one who's pissed off? Google is manipulating the relevance of paid music sites over the artists' own sites, and while that's fairly transparent (you can just scroll down past the LaLa link or whatever), it is a purposeful redirection of your "music related search." Just because you want to know about a song--or about anything, really--doesn't mean you want to buy a copy of it right at that moment. But if the surveys are to be trusted, fans will be fans, and come around to buying the stuff eventually, even if they pilfer a lot on the side, too.

(HT: Catbird.)

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