A new British study finds that the most pirated pop songs on the internet are those that already top the charts. Instead of giving rise to a "long tail" where small indie acts broaden their appeal online, the study found that digital technology - and music pirating - simply work to reinforce the fat head of mass appeal. From the BBC's summary:
There was little evidence that file-sharing sites helped unsigned and new bands find an audience ... It suggests file-sharing sites are becoming an alternative broadcast network comparable to radio stations as a way of hearing music.
Music critic, Carl Wilson, provides perspective:
This shouldn't be a surprise ever since the 2006 Columbia University study that showed pretty convincingly that popularity tends to breed popularity whether on the Internet or not: When facing a big list of music, even if you have sampled each song, most people are apt to decide that the best ones are the ones other people also like ...
It's also notable that the Big Champagne study found that most people followed this pattern because otherwise they were overwhelmed by choice (you've probably run across Barry Schwartz on that paradox).
What's more the ensuing exchange of information and opinion is the primary way that these choices become meaningful. A s one of the researchers, Andrew Bud, told The Register: "... it's through people chatting to each other and seeing the music talked about in the media. That's what culture is."