Tweens, teens turn to MySpace, iTunes, P2P for music

Young people are increasingly turning to new tools and technologies to satisfy their craving for new music

When you were growing up, how did you discover and listen to new music? Very likely, it was from 45s, LPs, and CDs recommended by friends, or songs played by radio and club DJs. Nowadays, as the music industry watches its old business models fade, young people are increasingly turning to new tools and technologies to satisfy their craving for new music. In certain respects, kids haven't changed much -- they continue to find new music through peer and media influences. What has changed, however, is the channels through which they are influenced, and they ways that they purchase their music.

According to a report by the NPD Group, "Kids & Digital Content" 70 per cent of kids in the "tween" age bracket (ages 9 through 14) are downloading digital music in an average month. A separate report from NPD estimates that while one million consumers dropped out of the CD buyer market in 2007, it was younger consumers who led that exodus. According to the report, 48 per cent of US teens did not purchase a single CD in 2007, compared to 38 per cent in 2006.

But while both tweens and teens are moving online -- along with the rest of consumers -- to buy and acquire their music, they are still heavily influenced by the same sources that have always influenced them -- their peers, their parents and the media. The difference is that these influences are moving online, as well.

Along with the mainstream social networks Facebook and MySpace that kids and teens in the US most commonly use to communicate with their friends online, there are a number of other social music sites that are being used to make music recommendations and suggestions -- Last.fm, Pandora, iLike and Imeem, just to name a few. Earlier this month, another competitor in the social music space, social.fm, announced that it was folding. And with shakeups still ongoing in the online music industry, it is yet to be seen which sites will be long-term winners in the social music space.

Currently, MySpace is leading the social music pack. It is used by 16 per cent of tweens and is the third most popular site for music sharing, according to NDP. But the sharing of music on social networks is still small compared to the number of downloads on iTunes. Used by 49 per cent of tweens who download music, iTunes is the most popular digital music store with kids, teens and adults alike. This is no doubt in part fueled by the sale of iPods. According to Piper Jaffray's "Taking Stock With Teens" study, 86 per cent of the students who own an MP3 player indicated that they also own some form of an iPod. This trend of personal digital music player (PDMP) ownership by tweens and teens is on the rise. According to NDP's report "Kids and Consumer Electronics IV," personal ownership has increased most for PDMP players over the past three years, moving from 4 per cent to 28 per cent. PDMP usage has doubled two years in a row, increasing 10 percentage points over the past year, making PDMPs the strongest growth product in both year-over-year and over time trends.

But while most tweens and teens are using legal pay-to-download stores on the Web to acquire their music, there are still high levels of illegal peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing. According to NDP, the second most popular source for digital music among tweens is the Limewire file-sharing service, which was used by 26 per cent of this age group to illegally share music for free. And while the percentage of US Internet users who engage in P2P file sharing reached a plateau of 19 per cent last year, P2P music sharing continued to grow aggressively among teens.

Melissa Chang is the founder of Pure Incubation, an Internet incubator based in the Boston area. She often blogs about the music industry at 16thletter.com.

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