MUSIC fans who illegally download their favourite tracks from the internet still buy albums in the shops, according to research.
The findings explode music industry fears that such internet file-sharing is killing the record industry. The results suggest most music fans still like to own genuine copies of their favourite albums.
Groups such as Metallica, Garbage and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers who try to prevent fans downloading their tracks are "shooting themselves in the foot" according to the research.
Patrick Johnston, a music business analyst, said: "Far from damaging the music industry, downloading music from the internet can be a useful and significant marketing tool."
Music Research and Programming, industry research experts who surveyed 500 serial downloaders aged between 13 and 45, discovered that 87 per cent of those who "try before they buy" would still buy albums when they were commercially released.
A total of 91 per cent of file-sharers download individual tracks, but more than two-thirds go on to buy the album, with even the heaviest downloaders saying they like to own real CDs.
Only half of people who download music illegally from the internet believe they are doing something morally wrong. Almost half of the people who responded to the survey were "heavy downloaders" who obtained more than 100 tracks. However, surprisingly, 34 per cent of them said they were buying more music than ever before.
Although 38 per cent of heavy users said they were buying less music, about 28 per cent said their internet activities had not affected the number of CDs they bought in a year.
Mr Johnston said: "Like the ‘home taping’ phenomenon of the Eighties, downloading is a way of transferring to another format. It is rarely a substitute for buying an addition to the ever-popular CD collection."
But until fairly recently, the music industry has regarded file-sharing as a threat, and sought to outlaw websites such as Napster, which allow users to swap music files online.
In the past few months, major record companies, including Sony and EMI, have moved into the market for downloads, but millions of computer owners across the world still prefer illegal networks such as Kazaa, which allow them to access songs by their favourite artists up to two months before they are commercially released.
Mr Johnston said despite attempts by Sony and EMI to jump on the file-sharing bandwagon, they have "missed the boat" and their attempts to woo online customers are seen as "too corporate".
He said: "I can understand the difficulty of their position because file sharing is still illegal, so they can’t endorse it.
"But we found album sales should improve if you promote your product on the internet. But the singles market will die. It has no future."
A nurse from Edinburgh who has downloaded scores of music tracks from the internet said it hasn’t stopped her buying albums. The woman, who asked not to be named, said: "I have discovered a lot of new music through the net. If they release a new album, I’ll definitely go out and buy it.
"I think it encourages you to try new stuff and it means that when you go down to your local record store you have a better idea of what to look for."
It is relatively easy to find a single track on the internet, but there are very few sites where whole albums can be found.