It may not yet be a flood, but the role of social networks like MySpace and Bebo in spreading the word about new music by online word of mouth has increased quickly from a trickle to a stream, and shows no signs of slowing down.
That's one of several interesting conclusions from the annual UK Digital Music Survey by Entertainment Media Research and Olswang, published today. I found last year's survey really useful, and wrote about its findings on social networks and discovery. This year's survey report is even better because it includes a lot of trend data, comparing results year on year. You can download the full report for free (in PDF slide format).
Last year I featured the statistics on sources of discovery, showing radio and music television still leading the pack, followed by friends' recommendations and social networks influential mainly with teenagers. This year radio and TV are down, word of mouth and social networks are up — though the former are still most important overall.
What's interesting is that some patterns seem to remain consistent while other factors change. From the chart above, you can see that it's not that social networks have become more influential with their users: there's no significant change in impact. It's just that there are a lot more people spending more time on MySpace and Bebo year on year. And again it's the younger age groups that are leading this trend.
Overall 27% of social network users regularly discover music on their favourite network (this figure is 33% for MySpace users, 30% for Bebo users, and 26% on YouTube). The report's authors suggest that there is currently a missed opportunity for converting these discoveries into sales, based on their finding that 46% agreed with the statement "I wish it was easier to purchase music that I find on these sites".
That the impact of social networks depends significantly on word of mouth between users, and their projection of their identity through the music they add to their profiles, is confirmed by the finding that 39% of all social networkers have embedded music into their profile, and for Bebo and MySpace this proportions is even higher (65% and 63% respectively).
What motivates people to add music to their profiles? The most popular responses to this line of questioning were "to show to others what music I'm into" and "to say something about my personality". So music is seen as a potent signifier of individual identity and taste.
In the press release, Russell Hart, Chief Executive of Entertainment Media Research comments, "Social networks are fundamentally changing the way we discover, purchase and use music. The dynamics of democratisation, word of mouth recommendation and instant purchase challenge the established order and offer huge opportunities to forward-thinking businesses."
The full report covers many other areas of digital music, including trends in illegal downloading (still increasing), legal downloading (not increasing as rapidly as it was), attitudes to DRM (increasingly aware and increasingly averse), ownership of personal digital music players (more than doubled in two years), the thriving live music sector (and opportunities for other parts of the music industry to feed off this success). Go and get the full report for more on each of these.
One last area, which I may come back to separately because it's one I've been banging on about periodically for a few years, is the relatively robust projections for radio. According to the research, there has been a significant increase in consumers listening to the radio on their mobile phone, from 15% in 2006 to 25% this year. Radio on mobiles seems to be received better by the market than Over The Air downloads to mobiles. And better than TV on mobiles, according to this recent piece by James Cridland.
[Postscript: some modest synchronicity in the coincidence that, immediately after pressing 'publish' on the above, I got notification that someone had discovered and bought an album after reading a post of mine on Vox (see the comments — the post concerned is powered by the IODA Promonet system I mentioned previously).]