April 30, 2002, 12:00 AM

Lollapalooza on your desktop

More than 40% of home Internet users in the U.S. have downloaded music from the Internet and users have an average of 305 music files, says the E-Home report.

The debate continues over whether downloading of music from the Internet harms or helps music sales. Whichever side one favors, everyone knows that music downloading is pervasive, especially among young people. Now Parks Associates, a Dallas-based research group, has determined just how pervasive it is.

Parks Associates’ E-Home 2001 study, released last month, reports that more than 40% of home Internet users in the U.S. have downloaded MP3 files onto their computers, and they are storing an average of 305 music files each.

In a survey of 711 consumers in U.S. households with Internet access, Parks Associates found that 81% of respondents aged 18-24 have downloaded MP3 files onto home computers, storing on average 350 clips, songs, and files. Although a lower percentage of consumers aged 25-34-62%-has downloaded MP3 files onto home computers, they are storing on average twice as many files-721. Even older Internet users are downloading music files-24% of 55- to 64-years-olds and 13% of those over 65. The average among number of files among the 55- to 64-years-olds is 124; it’s 72 in the 65+ group.

“Prior to this study, we assumed that a fair number of home Internet users of all ages were taking advantage of music-swapping services and CD-ripping software,” says Kurt Scherf, vice president of research for Parks Associates. “What we didn’t realize was the staggering amount of music files stored on home computers. The home computer, at least in certain segments, is evolving into an important center for entertainment inside the home.”

Those files can only be hurting sales, some say. For instance, Tower Records stores near college campuses are not doing as well as other Tower Records stores. “We think some of that is attributable to music downloading from the Internet, “ says Mark Bressler, direct-to-consumer business manager for TowerRecords.com. Furthermore, two music trade groups reported that CD sales fell 10% last year from the year before.

Advocates of music downloading argue that it is beneficial to the music industry because it exposes new listeners to certain artists. But others argue that the Internet makes available enough other options that music downloading is not necessary. “Every major web site has music samples, so listeners could still be exposed to new music without downloading,” Bressler says. “I would argue that downloading has hurt the industry more than helped it.”

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