It’s been a while since digital rights management (DRM) has been a big issue for music downloads: stores and labels have adopted DRM-free as the distribution model of choice, and the sky hasn’t fallen in as a result. But now there’s an academic report from the University of Toronto examining whether removing DRM had a discernible impact on sales. According to researcher Laurina Zhang, it did: a 10% rise in sales overall – although it varies depending on how popular albums are. “Relaxing sharing restrictions does not impact all albums equally; it increases the sales of lower-selling albums (the “long tail”) significantly by 30% but does not benefit top-selling albums,” explains Zhang. “My results are consistent with theory that shows lowering search costs can facilitate the discovery of niche products.” The theory being that since people can more easily share DRM-free music files, more people will go and buy them. We’d stress that this is a theory: more research is needed to understand what’s going on here.

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