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When It Comes to Online Music Samples, Size (and Quality) Matters 

Pittsburgh, Pa. – Online music retailers could sell more digital music if they offered customers longer, high-quality samples to listen to before purchasing, according to a study by faculty in the School of Business at Robert Morris University.

Most online music stores, such as iTunes or Amazon.com, feature short samples – usually 30 seconds – that are of lower recording quality than the CD-quality song files that are available for purchase. That’s because retailers want to avoid the so-called free rider problem: people using the free samples as a substitute for the real thing.

But RMU assistant professors Yanbin Tu and Min Lu, writing in the International Journal of Internet Marketing and Advertising, found that potential customers are more likely to purchase music if they can listen to longer, higher-quality samples.

Tu and Lu conducted an experiment involving 90 college students, who listened to music samples of varying quality and length, and then completed a questionnaire to gauge which samples made them more likely to purchase songs.

The authors found that the participants were most likely to purchase songs for which they had heard high-quality samples that were of 60 seconds in length, or high-quality samples that were half the length of the entire song. In neither case was the free rider problem an issue. Tu and Lu also tested samples that were full-length but low-quality, and in that case, listeners were more likely to listen to the sample rather than purchase a song.

Tu and Lu note that not only would higher-quality samples make listeners more likely to purchase a particular song, but it would also lead consumers to rely more heavily on online music sampling for evaluating music. Currently, online music sampling is only the fifth most popular tool for consumers to evaluate music, falling behind friends’ recommendations; radio; artist’s name; and television.

Online music sampling is a particularly important channel for lesser-known artists to garner sales. “Consumers bear a higher risk for products from lesser-known artists. …Therefore, music retailers should put greater efforts to increase the effectiveness of online digital music sampling, especially for the music products by new artists,” the authors write.