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How did the introduction of downloads affect the music industry?

Since downloads were introduced in the late 1990s, the music industry has seen a huge number of changes. CD sales are steadily declining, whilst every day more and more people download music onto their computers, digital music players or mobile phones. However, as a large number of these downloads take place illegally, the music industry has not welcomed all the changes. Add to this is the fact that it is now apparently easier for unsigned bands to reach the music charts and cut out the 'middle men' of the record industry, it seems that the music industry is in danger of being 'the loser' when it comes to music downloads.

There are a number of issues to consider when examining the effect of downloads upon the music industry. The main aspects to consider are music piracy, the effect on sales and music charts, and the effects on the artists, record companies and consumers. I will deal with each of these issues separately, but a number of the areas do overlap.

Radio stations no longer take into account a record's release date, and instead start to play it as soon as it becomes available online. Similarly, the music charts are no longer the preserve of new releases. Older, well-established bands are now tentatively beginning to release their back catalogues online, and it will be interesting to note if the older generation of music fans are tempted off the high street and into online stores. The fact that DRM-free tracks are now slowly being made available could also tempt some MP3-refuseniks to convert from CDs to download.

Whilst music piracy is clearly an issue, the industry has already proved that it is more than capable of fighting back, after it clawed back millions of dollars from Napster and persuaded it to change its business model. It is also important to remember that piracy is not a new problem, and that the music industry has thrived despite the black market in copied tapes and CDs for decades. Some commentators even believe that piracy is a good thing, and in the case of new acts such as the Arctic Monkeys, it can provide bands with much-needed publicity. With most new mobile phones now coming complete with MP3 players, this is likely to be a big area of expansion for music downloads in the future. One future development to watch is Apple's new iPhone, set to be released sometime this year. Once it becomes commonplace to download music tracks straight to your mobile phone, the music business will have become a truly virtual, mobile industry.

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