MP3 Players Don’t Reduce Radio Audiences

by Christopher Paul on October 26, 2008

It may come as a shock to some – but not to me – that MP3 players don’t reduce the number of listeners of a radio station. In the past, according to an article from the NY Times, radio stations had seen the the time listeners spent listening (and the number of listeners) to their stations drop and thought digital music players, like Apple’s iPod, were to blame. The article highlights how the radio research company Arbitron now sees an increase in radio listeners; no one sees any slowdown in iPod sales so one can suggest that the two are unrelated. Now what shocks me is that this could be shocking and newsworthy to some – not the fact that the two stats are unrelated.

Radio has, and for the foreseeable future, has always been about providing “free” entertainment; music stations being one of the dominant formats. Radio stations, of course, charge businesses to advertise and that’s how they make their profit; less listeners, the lower their ads can go for and the less money they make. But radio (generally) takes advantage of the record label’s new music and uses new artists and albums to keep users interested and listening. True, some stations play niche generas like oldies and easy listening. But they, too, promote music in some way.

Now its obvious to me that MP3 players don’t reduce radio audiences. MP3 players simply allow a person to take their music with them and control it as they like. The devices themselves don’t offer any way to discover new music. Radio does. Take away radio stations and people can’t discover music to purchase and store on their personal devices as easily. I would argue that MP3 players need radio more than anything; otherwise, one’s music selection would certainly be limited to those discovered by word-of-mouth or some other way.

The article does touch on the idea that fluctuations in the quality of new music has affected radio audiences more than new technology; I, personally, believe that is the case but I have no survey to back that up, however. If anything (besides the quality of music released by the record labels) is going to compete with radio stations, its going to be services that help people discover new music. Web radio stations like Pandora and social music websites like iLike are more of a threat than a fancy Walkman ever will be. As long as the terrestrial, over-the-air, radio stations adapt with the technology and compete with their web counterparts, they’ll be able to keep their listeners for as long as they want.

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