Earlier this fall, I decided to get Arcade Fire’s latest album The Suburbs. Like everyone, I get more and more music online, but in this case, I also thought maybe I’d go in to a record store and pick up an actual CD. It’d be nice, I considered, to have a physical copy, and the smell of a CD booklet is certainly nostalgic. After procrastinating my record store outing for weeks, however, I finally gave up and bought the album on iTunes.In retrospect, what surprises me about this whole experience is that I didn’t illegally download the album. In fact, I didn’t even consider it. Though I’m not ethically opposed to pirating media — I’ve done a fair share of it in the past and believe it has a legitimate place in the consumer music ecosystem — the thought just didn’t really cross my mind this time around. What’s more, some significant evidence suggests that I’m not alone, and that people are increasingly turning — if not yet stampeding — to legal channels to get their music. (Slate tech writer and NPR contributor Farhad Manjoo discusses some of these trends here.)
So why are my downloading habits changing? Why might everyone else’s be slowly changing too? Some in the media industry might point to the huge lawsuits the record labels occasionally bring — and win — against music pirates. Manjoo also points out in the article linked above that the download-now-use-later approach to music is starting to feel outdated in a streaming world. Or maybe everyone just realized that downloading was wrong.