25 May 02006

Groups and behaviour patterns among music listeners

Not all music listeners and digital consumers are the same. It's an obvious thing to say, but in what ways do they differ? Are there any groups or patterns of behaviour among them?

Youth subcultures are well known. Is it just my London perspective, or do people in the UK revel in the finer points of 'tribal' distinctions more than anywhere else? Channel 4 recently launched the UK Tribes website, dedicated to mapping the current groups here, from established subcultures like goths and grungers to myspacers, Nathan Barleys (explanation for non-UK readers) and blingers. However, this is a scattershot picture that doesn't give much sense of how the different tribes align and interact with each other.

In my book, I'm interested in the dynamics that drive word-of-mouth recommendations, including the types of people that make a point of spreading the word. The most useful data I've found has been published by Emap Advertising and is again UK-based (Emap owns several magazines and radio stations). In 2003 they did a first research study, under the name Project Phoenix, looking specifically at the attitudes towards music of people between the ages of 15 and 39. They identified four main degrees of interest in music.

  • Savants — for whom everything in life seems to be tied up with music. They represented 9% of the 15-39 age group in 2003.
  • Enthusiasts — music is a key part of life but is balanced by other interests. Representing 16% of the 15-39 age group in 2003.
  • Casuals — music plays a welcome role, but other things are far more important. Representing 26% of the 15-39 age group in 2003.
  • Indifferents — would not lose much sleep if music ceased to exist. Representing 48% of the 15-39 age group in 2003.

The research also identified sub-groups within the first three of these groups, and profiled each of these in terms of their adoption of new technologies, their frequency of going to gigs, how much they read magazines as opposed to the internet, and so on.

This year Emap Advertising has reported a follow-up study, Project Phoenix 2, based this time on 16-45-year-olds. The proportions of Savants have gone down very slightly, and Indifferents have declined more significantly (to 40%). Taking the Savants and Enthusiasts together, the number of people with a strong interest in music has, however, gone up by a modest amount.

Bar chart showing changes in listening and attitudes

Some other trends are interesting, particularly where the research has identified changes correlated with MP3 use. The bar chart shown here [this is a reproduction of one of the slides in the presentation you can download from the web page; click on it to enlarge it] shows that people report a positive impact on all sorts of music-related activities, from listening more, exploring more music online, being more adventurous in listening to unfamiliar music, and spending more money on music.

When the researchers asked how many CDs people had purchased in the last month, the profile of spending was almost exactly the same for MP3 users as for the overall average. So if MP3 users say they are spending more than they used to, then either they were below average in their spending before — which seems unlikely — or their extra spending is going something other than CDs. Music downloads would be the obvious candidate for this spending, thought it could also be that MP3 users are more likely to go and see live music, as another symptom of being more adventurous in their tastes.

Curiously, when asked about how much music they listened to per day, the profile of MP3 users was again very similar to the overall average. Does this contradict the figures in the bar chart above, which shows that MP3 players say they listen to more music now. It is possible, for example, that some of 2003's Indifferents have been given an MP3 player and have become Casuals or Enthusiasts, raising their listening from below average to average in the process. Another explanation would be that MP3 users feel subjectively that they listen more (and buy more); but, when it comes to reporting real figures, it turns out they don't.

The good news for the recording industry from the Phoenix 2 interviews is that they've found several instances of young people who used to be users of peer-to-peer file-sharing services, but have switched to legal purchases. The reasons given for this switch are not fear of litigation but spyware and malware, convenience, availability of a bit more cash, and desire to support artists. (OK, so maybe the last of these suggests that the education and prosecution tactics are having some effect, but you have to be quite cynical to assume that no listeners considered the ethics of downloading prior to these tactics.)

People still see CDs as in some ways a superior product to MP3s (on account of the packaging, mainly), but using the internet as a means to obtain music is up across the board, whether for paid or free downloads or for ordering CDs and vinyl. Use of traditional retail is correspondingly down across the board, except for a very small increase in buying from supermarkets.

All of these trends can be extracted from the Powerpoint Presentation that is available on the Emap Advertising page.

If you know of comparable research in the US or other territories, please let me know by posting a comment or get in touch.

(Thanks to Jon Watts for originally tipping me off about the Project Phoenix work a couple of years ago.)

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Future of Music, Music and Multimedia on 25 May 02006 | TrackBack


Interesting study, lots of food for thought there. Although, I must say that I am suspicious of survey data nowadays. There often seems to be a big difference between what people *think* they are doing (I *am* listening to new music ever since I spent $400 on this music player, well, at least I *must* be). It would be interesting to compare peoples opinions about their behavior with actual data (for instance looking at iPod play histories overtime to see if listening habits increase or get more diverse over time).


Posted by: Paul on 26 May 02006 at 1:05 PM
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