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Study: Flat future for digital music

By Richard Stenger
CNN Science and Technology

(CNN) -- The prospect of music lovers purchasing digital songs on the Internet in the future looks extremely bleak, despite efforts by the recording industry to convince them to do so, according to a new report.

The survey, polling a sample of Internet users in the United States, found that half listened to CDs on their personal computers but only one-quarter listened to songs they downloaded on their machines.

Moreover, only 6 percent said they had purchased digital music online during a three-month period this spring, according to Gartner Inc., the technology research firm that conducted the survey of 4,000 adults.

The situation will likely not improve, given the hesitation of consumers to pay for material that they previously downloaded on free song-sharing networks such as the now-dormant Napster, and because the major record labels have failed to come up with a simple alternative, according to Gartner researchers.

"Digital distribution needs to be brain-dead simple for consumers," said P.J. McNealy, co-author of a report released this week entitled "Digital Copyright Law: Protect Content and Consumers.

"Any solution should work with all music software and hardware. In order for this to happen, the Big Five need to work together, and that doesn't look hopeful before next year," said McNealy, referring to Universal Music, Sony Music, EMI, Bertelsmann AG and Warner Music.

(Warner Music and share the same parent company, AOL Time Warner.)

Upcoming music distribution services include MusicNet and PressPlay, both of which will charge fees to download songs. The former is backed by Warner Music, EMI and Bertelsmann; the latter is a joint venture that includes Sony and Universal. Both groups have said they expect to be ready by late summer. Napster also plans to rollout a membership-based site by the end of the year.

• GartnerG2

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