Pirate Marketing

It seems that, at last, record labels and artists are starting to recognise the enormous opportunity that P2P file-sharing networks can potentially offer them.

The WSJ reported this week that a number of labels are attempting to infiltrate some of the bigger file-sharing sites by deploying so-called ‘decoy files’ for users to download. These files, whilst appearing to be regular music files, actually contain promotional messages and snippets of tracks, with the promise of the full track being available for free if the message is forwarded around to a pre-agreed number of users.

File sharing sites can offer marketers and advertisers a potential audience that is both attractive and huge – in the US during September, an average of nine million people were logged on to P2P services at any given time, up from 6.8 million two years ago, according to BigChampagne, which tracks the industry. The profile of the users is generally young, male and tech-savvy.

This creates an obvious dichotomy for labels and artists – on the one hand, you’ve got people effectively stealing your goods, but on the other hand, they’re an attractive audience, gathered in one place, and importantly, keen consumers of music.

People aren’t going to stop sharing files. But likewise, it’s unlikely to be the death-knell of the music industry. Consumers who use P2P sites usually over-index on legally purchased music too – so engaging them with a little bit of short term value could be hugely beneficial to the industry in the long-term.

As an aside, I wonder where this could lead us? As entertainment industries begin to examine how P2P culture can positively affect their businesses, we could see a massive shift in how (and who) is asked to pay for content. Could eventually all content be available for free, funded only by ad-revenue and marketing dollars?

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