Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 124, Issue 4, pp 537–550 | Cite as

Online Music Consumption in Today’s Technological Context: Putting the Influence of Ethics in Perspective

  • Bert Weijters
  • Frank Goedertier
  • Sofie Verstreken


Whereas in the past ‘free’ and ‘illegal’ were nearly synonymous in the music industry, consumers nowadays face a myriad of music platforms with widely different characteristics in terms of business model (advertising supported, fee based, etc.), delivery mode (streaming, downloading, etc.), and others. The current research examines music consumption preferences in this new context. In order to break with the outmoded free-illegal versus paid-legal dichotomy, the present research studies consumer preferences for a broader range of music platform attributes, including free versus paying business models, (il)legality of use, artist revenues, downloading versus streaming, and audio quality. Based on a literature review and a qualitative study with in-depth interviews (N = 92), an online conjoint survey (N = 764) quantifies online music preferences. Results show that consumers of all ages clearly and consistently prefer legal and ethical options if available, but favor different ways of making this economically viable. Youngsters and young adults are more open to advertising, while middle-aged adults are more often willing to pay for advertising-free platforms. Thus, in real-life choices, youngsters may appear to be less ethical and law abiding, but the driving force behind this is mainly economical. Finally, a market segmentation provides deeper insights into online music consumer preferences and leads to recommendations on how to define viable legal and ethical music offerings.


Age Conjoint analysis Digital music Marketing Music piracy Online 


  1. Aleassa, H., Pearson, J. M., & McClurg, S. (2011). Investigating software piracy in Jordan: An extension of the theory of reasoned action. Journal of Business Ethics, 98, 663–676.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Borkowski, S. C., & Ugras, Y. J. (1992). The ethical attitudes of students as a function of age, sex and experience. Journal of Business Ethics, 11(12), 961–979.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chiang, E., & Assane, D. (2002). Software copyright infringement among college students. Applied Economics, 34, 157–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chiang, E., & Assane, D. (2009). Estimating the willingness to pay for digital music. Contemporary Economic Policy, 27(4), 512–522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chiou, J. S., Huang, C. K., & Lee, H. H. (2005). The antecedents of music piracy. Attitudes and intentions. Journal of Business Ethics, 57(2), 161–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dilmperi, A., King, T., & Dennis, C. (2011). Pirates of the Web: The curse of illegal downloading. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 18(2), 132–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Du, R. Y., & Kamakura, W. A. (2006). Household life cycles and lifestyles in the United States. Journal of Marketing Research, 43(1), 121–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Easley, R. F. (2005). Ethical issues in the music industry response to innovation and piracy. Journal of Business Ethics, 62(2), 163–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Edwards, J. (2011). Online music piracy topic of Nashville meeting. Businessweek, July 12. Available online on
  10. Gerlich, R. N., Lewer, J. J., & Lucas, D. (2010). Illegal media file sharing: The impact of cultural and demographic factors. Journal of Internet Commerce, 9, 104–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gopal, R. D., Bhattacharjee, S., & Sanders, G. L. (2006). Do artists benefit from online music sharing? Journal of Business, 79(3), 1503–1533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Haines, R., & Leonard, L. N. K. (2007). Individual characteristics and ethical decision-making in an IT context. Industrial Management & Data Systems, 107(1), 5–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. IFPI (International Federation of Phonographic Industry). (2011). Digital music report 2011. Research report. IFPI.
  14. IFPI (International Federation of Phonographic Industry). (2012). Digital music report 2012. Research report.
  15. Kaminskas, M., & Ricci, F. (2012). Contextual music information retrieval and recommendation: State of the art and challenges. Computer Science Review, 6, 89–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lewer, J. J., Gerlich, R. N., & Turner, N. (2008). The ethics and economics of file sharing. Southwestern Economic Review, 35(1), 67–78.Google Scholar
  17. Lilien, G. L., & Rangaswamy, A. (2004). Marketing engineering: Computer-assisted marketing analysis and planning (2nd ed.). Victoria: Trafford Publishing.Google Scholar
  18. Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.Google Scholar
  19. Newman, J. (2012). Pono: Can high-quality audio sell Neil Young’s portable music player? Time Tech. Accessed on 9 Apr 2013 on
  20. Nyaw, M. K., & Ng, I. (1994). A comparative analysis of ethical beliefs: A four country study. Journal of Business Ethics, 13(7), 543–555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Oppenheimer, D., Meyvis, T., & Davidenko, N. (2009). Instructional manipulation checks: Detecting satisficing to increase statistical power. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 867–872.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ouellet, J. F. (2007). The purchase versus illegal download of music by consumers: The influence of consumer response towards the artist and music. Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, 24(2), 107–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Plowman, S., & Goode, S. (2009). Factors affecting the intention to download music: Quality perceptions and downloading intensity. Journal of Computer Information Systems, 49(4), 84–97.Google Scholar
  24. Pritchard, K. (2010). Let’s get this party started: Pump up the volume. Streaming music is a great way to connect with older kids. School Library Journal, 56(3), 34–37.Google Scholar
  25. Roberts, J. J. (2012). Three myths behind ‘internet pirates always win’. Businessweek, September 17. Available online on
  26. Robertson, K., McNeil, L., Green, J., & Roberts, C. (2012). Illegal downloading, ethical concern, and illegal behavior. Journal of Business Ethics, 108(2), 215–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Shang, R.-A., Chen, Y.-C., & Chen, P.-C. (2008). Ethical decisions about sharing music files in the P2P environment. Journal of Business Ethics, 80(2), 349–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Sinha, R. K., & Mandel, N. (2008). Preventing digital music piracy: The carrot or the stick? Journal of Marketing, 72, 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Steenkamp, J.-B. E. M., de Jong, M. G., & Baumgartner, H. (2010). Socially desirable response tendencies in survey research. Journal of Marketing Research, 47(2), 199–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Wagner, S. C., & Sanders, G. L. (2001). Considerations in ethical decision-making and software piracy. Journal of Business Ethics, 29(1), 161–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Wang, C., Chen, C., Yang, S., & Farn, C. (2009). Pirate or buy? The moderating effect of idolatry. Journal of Business Ethics, 90, 81–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Williams, M. (2000). Virtually criminal: Discourse, deviance and anxiety within virtual communities. International Review of Law Computer Technology, 14(1), 95–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Yoon, C. (2011). Theory of planned behavior and ethics theory in digital piracy: An integrated model. Journal of Business Ethics, 100(3), 405–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bert Weijters
    • 1
  • Frank Goedertier
    • 2
  • Sofie Verstreken
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Personnel Management, Work and Organizational Psychology, Faculty of Psychology and Educational SciencesGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Area MarketingVlerick Business SchoolLeuvenBelgium
  3. 3.Think BBDOBrusselsBelgium
  4. 4.Scala & Kolacny BrothersAarschotBelgium

Personalised recommendations