Music executives love to blame illegal downloading for their industry's woes. But based on the results of a new nationwide poll, they might want to look in the mirror.
Eighty percent of the respondents consider it stealing to download music for free without the copyright holder's permission, and 92 percent say they've never done it, according to the poll conducted for The Associated Press and Rolling Stone magazine.
Meanwhile, three-quarters of music fans say compact discs are too expensive, and 58 percent say music in general is getting worse.
"Less talented people are able to get a song out there and make a quick million and you never hear from them again," said Kate Simkins, 30, of Cape Cod, Mass.
Ipsos' telephone poll of 1,000 adults, including 963 music listeners, from all states except Alaska and Hawaii, was conducted Jan. 23-25 and has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The music industry has spent several years in turmoil, as downloading and the popularity of iPods upend its traditional business model. A total of 618.9 million CD albums were sold during 2005, sharply down from the 762.8 million sold in 2001, according to Nielsen Soundscan.
At the same time, 352.7 million tracks were sold digitally in 2005, a category that wasn't even measured five years ago. Digital sales of music and ring tones offer new revenue opportunities, but often at the expense of more lucrative CD sales.
Although buying music digitally hasn't exactly become widespread — only 15 percent of poll respondents said they have done it — there appears to be a growing acceptance of this type of transaction.
The poll found that 71 percent of music fans believe that a 99-cent download of a song is a fair price or outright bargain.
Even though millions of tracks are downloaded for free each week on peer-to-peer networks, a sense of queasiness remains.
"Somebody is putting their art out there. They should be compensated for it," said Mickey Johnson, 41, from Charleston, Tenn.
The industry would be wise to embrace downloading, said Greg Hoerger, 42, of Minneapolis, who suggested that customers could receive five or six free downloads from an artist when they buy a CD.
For fans like Hoerger and Simkins, buying a CD for about $20 is no bargain. They'd rather download one or two favorite songs to their iPods.
The digital music revolution also has other benefits, Simkins said: With the iPod, she no longer has to have cassettes or CDs cluttering her car.
The last CD she bought, a few months ago, was by the Killers.
"It was on sale," she said.
Many fans also say they just don't like what they're hearing. It may not be surprising to hear older fans say music just isn't what it used to be when they were growing up. But the poll also found that 49 percent of music fans ages 18-to-34 — the target audience for the music business — say music is getting worse.
"Even if our parents didn't like how loud rock 'n' roll was, or that it was revolutionary, at least they could listen to some of it," said Christina Tjoelker, 49, from Snohomish, Wash. "It wasn't gross. It wasn't disgusting. It wasn't about beating up women or shooting the police."
The last CD she bought was Neil Diamond's new one, "because Oprah was raving about it," she said.
Overall, music fans were split on why music sales have been declining for the past five years: 33 percent said it was because of illegal downloads, 29 percent said it was because of competition from other forms of entertainment, 21 percent blamed it on the quality of music getting worse and 13 percent said it was because CDs are too expensive.
FM radio is still the main way most fans find out about new music, according to the poll. Television shows are a distant second.
Rock 'n' roll is the most popular style of music, cited by 26 percent of the fans. It runs neck-and-neck with country among fans ages 35 or over.
Rap music is the source of the biggest generation gap. Among fans under age 35, 18 percent called rap or hip-hop their favorite style of music, the poll found. Only 2 percent of people ages 35 and over said the same thing.