Australians download music illegally more frequently, by head of population, than any other country. At the same time we also happily pay for downloads and still buy physical albums at a rate which surprises the industry worldwide.
According to a survey of downloads from bit torrent sites conducted by Musicmetric, a self-described data and analytics company, Australia, with just over 19 million downloads, placed sixth in the top 10 for music downloads in the past year. The top downloading nation was the US which, according to Musicmetric, downloaded music 96,681,133 times, more than double the next nearest nation, Britain, which had a little over 43 million downloads.
However, by size, Australia with a population of 23 million for those 19 million downloads was comfortably the most frequent user of unofficial or illegal sites. And the most popular artist downloaded in Australia was Adelaide hip-hop group the Hilltop Hoods.
Hilltop Hoods ... most popular artists downloaded in Australia. Photo: Supplied
Dylan Liddy, manager of the Hilltop Hoods, was wary of accepting the Musicmetric figures but was relatively sanguine about the impact of illegal downloads on sales.
"We are in the business of selling records so it would be great if we could monetise everything. But at the moment, the way that the music world has moved is getting illegal downloads and that's very hard to police," he said.
Asked if there was anything positive about the number of illegal downloads, Liddy laughed and said: “It is what is. It's great that the boys are popular.”
Australians are the most frequent users of unofficial or illegal download sites.
However, Liddy also pointed out that it's not as if the Adelaide crew are having trouble selling legally in a country where overall sales have held up better than almost every other market around the world. The Hilltop Hoods latest album, Drinking From the Sun, is still in the top 40 of the Australian sales charts after seven weeks, having reached No.1 and sold in excess of 70,000 copies in physical and digital forms.
“We are tremendously successful in the digital world," Liddy said. "We have a lot of people downloading from various retail sites, legitimate retail sites, and that has done very well for us in the last couple of years. Our fan base is very tech-savvy and very online-savvy so it goes hand in hand. But it also goes hand in hand with the overall market which is moving towards a lot of digital sales as well.”
While caution need be applied to these new figures as there is no information yet on the methodology or reach of the Musicmetric survey, nor has Fairfax seen the full survey results, the figures are an interesting comparison with those supplied by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) for 2011 and suggest a market comfortable with sourcing digital music.
According to ARIA, legal digital sales have kept rising, with sales up 37 per cent last year, and digital sales' overall share of the music market in Australia also reaching 37 per cent. This was during a year when several streaming and online sales sites began operating in Australia or were set up by local retailers.
The dollar value of music purchases in 2011 was $382,772,000, down slightly on 2010. The largest growth was for digital albums, something also reflected in the Musicmetric report which found that albums were by far the most popular form download, ahead of single track downloads.
Nonetheless, ARIA's own figures suggest 25 per cent of downloading was conducted from illegal sites.