An Interesting Number From Bandcamp

Bandcamp's recent good news about their continued success planted a question in my mind; Since Bandcamp charges the same price for lossy and lossless downloads, I wonder how many people still buy the lossy version? So I asked Bandcamp and they answered.
"MP3 downloads make up about 80% of all downloads, a further 15% being in one or another lossless format. Of the remaining 5% are the perpetual underdogs, AAC and OGG."
That's an interesting number, no? Even though the lossless version costs the same, the majority still go lossy. Just to state the obvious, you cannot turn a lossy file into a lossless file, thereby getting back what the lossy encoding process removed—that musical stuff is gone forever. You can, however, turn a lossless file into a lossy file if you wanted to squeeze more of them onto your phone, for example.

My guess is, and it's only a guess, MP3 is the Kleenex of download formats. After all, AAC and OGG are newer tech and claim to be sonically superior to Kleenex, and lossless formats are lossless, but it just doesn't matter to most. Sigh.

Fetuso's picture

Mike, I'm glad you posted this. I've never heard of Bandcamp and I just spent some time at the site. I was just browsing when I tapped on a German hard rock band called Limestone Whale. I was able to listen to the songs and I really liked it. I bought the cd, which comes with a free download. I can't remember the last time I bought a rock album from a new band. This is exciting.

Regarding why so many more people buy the MP3 versions, I suspect you're right. I use my wife as a barometer for these things. She's as non-audiophile as they come and I'm sure she would chose MP3 simply because that's what she knows from using an iPod for years.

Axiom05's picture

This is a truly depressing statistic, but not surprising. And you wonder why people aren't enthusiastic about MQA being successful? My guess is that the majority of people still don't understand the difference between the many formats available, they buy what they know. If people aren't even buying CD-quality, why would they even consider Hi-Res or MQA?

findog3103's picture

Bandcamp is awesome. I always choose lossless files and I especially love it if I buy vinyl and lossless is the option for download.

jim tavegia's picture

It might make the sale of MQA harder than they thought especially considering that they still need to invest in a MQA DAC to hear all it can really do.

Hard to imagine that his is still going on in 2016. I am guessing you can still be a music lover and listen to MP3, but the questions is why and do they really not know that better is out there? I am beginning to think that THIS is the problem and most don't know about high rez and really understand the point of it. The fact that America ranks 28th in the world in Math ability may be a huge part of it. Hard to believe that if it sounds like music, it is good enough.

cggkevin's picture

I think download bandwidth and phone storage still drive MP3's. My first preference is CD rips to FLAC (Amazon), then FLAC downloads (bandcamp, Ponomusic, HDTracks or otheres) either redbook or hi-res but I still get some stuff in MP3. It just depends on pricing and quality of the recording.

germay0653's picture

Lack of knowledge or experience, lack of equipment to even notice the difference, just plain indifference meaning it's not that important to them or all of the above. My guess is a little of each.

PalJoey's picture

The average person knows what an MP3 is. Most of them haven't heard of FLAC, let alone AAC or OGG.

So they go with what they know, because they can rely on it working on their phone or player. It has also become the generic name for a digital sound file.

I don't think it is as much a case of rejecting lossless formats, just that those people outside the hi-fi bubble don't want to risk a format they don't recognise.

I've used BandCamp a couple of times, and like the way they offer a choice without a price premium. I hope they flourish.

hevymac's picture

I could not agree with you more.
When listening to digital people know mp3 it is synonymous with digital files. It really is risky to try flac etc.
For example. About ten years ago my ps3 played flac file, then one day Sony got rid of that feature and all the file I used were useless. And now I use Jriver and a pc.

hevymac's picture

Also, how on earth do I edit the grammatical errors out of my previous post?

deckeda's picture

Cassettes killed LPs in the 80s because of convenience and storage. Lossy downloads offer both, compared to lossless. I would never "fault" a music buying public for that.

If there's a difference today, it's that most people don't know lossless sounds better. That said, ask how many people who regularly bought pre-recorded cassettes in the '80s/'90s thought LPs sounded better. Many, if not most, will simply cite a record's scratches, dust, dirt and their horrible record players. Cassettes, for them, WERE an improvement.

All things in context, indeed.

NeilS's picture

The level is interesting, but to put it in context, it would be useful to know the trend, i.e., is the 80% falling, stable, or rising?

Jonahsdad's picture

IPhone's don't support FLAC. They offer both AIFF and Apple lossless. So the lossless alternative to the old default standard is not clear. Switching from MP3 requires thought, knowledge and decision making. Why bother? (they say...)

jimx1169's picture

There are several FLAC players for the iPhone. The one I use is simply named "FLAC Player" which is currently priced at $9.99. Works great, and if your computer is a Mac that supports 'Airdrop' it makes transferring the files painless.

jimx1169's picture

Sure wish there was a way to edit my other post. I'm wondering if it was meant that iTunes doesn't support FLAC, which is true.

qwak's picture

Its great that people buy music. They have a choice and for whatever reason they choose mp3. Lets face it, 320 kbps mp3 sound is good enough...sometimes maybe even great. A lot of mainstream equipment cant even play flacs, so if it sounds good for them (and it is) why should they bother?
Maybe one day they stumble upon audiostream/dar/ or some enlightening article and then they choose light (or dark?) side of the force and maybe not and they will just continue to enjoy music...
I bet hardcore vynil lovers are sad that 98,5% of all people listen to digital (be it mp3 or DSD 256)... :)

whell's picture

...that MP3 are lossy, what lossy really means, that "once lossy, always lossy", and that there are "better" alternatives to MP3. I'll bet it's not as many as we'd like to think.

Doug Adams's picture

Some have limited storage on the phone or slow internet speeds. Many don't have the program or know how to convert hi res to fit their limited equipment. Others just don't know yet. Hi res downloading is a relatively new development. The average crowd moves at a slower pace than we do. It takes time. The record labels,equipment manufacturers,
and mainstream audio/tech websites could do a better job explaining the advantages and technologies

I run into this with camera equipment all the time. Raw is lossless and jpeg is compressed. DSLRs come set to lossy jpeg. When I cover Raw in basic camera class, it is one of the most popular subjects. People are eager to learn how to get better quality pictures for no extra cost. They just need it explained in simple, logical terms.

Michael, you know the Bandcamp people pretty well. Any chance they would put a little hi res explanation on the site? Hi res artists would appreciate people hearing their music in the
Best quality possible. I remember flac having a for audiophiles or some such description. That is not very descriptive for the average person.

solarophile's picture

Of course for best quality, lossless is better. But high bit MP3 like 256kbps or 320kbps encoded well sounds identical to most people anyway even with high end hardware.

But this is Bandcamp and indie music. The majority of the mastering job isn't great. A bunch of the music is hypercompressed from what I've heard. I doubt anyone is missing anything by selecting the MP3 320kbps option.

howardk's picture

I recently read that 90% of human sensory input is visual, leaving just 10% for our other senses, including hearing. I don't know how accurate that figure is, or how it was calculated, but it might explain why most people are so much more concerned with video quality than audio quality. Those same consumers that prefer MP3 audio would not consider watching anything less than HD 1080p movies, and are chomping at the bit for 4K video. So, maybe it's all about relative sensory input.

Maury's picture

Since music is so omnipresent even the typical listener knows something about audio. The reason that lossy or other inferior formats prevail is simply due to convenience uber alles. To the 80%, audio quality makes no difference. It should be evident that this is the case since even devoted audiophiles here have no problem admitting to using inferior formats in the car, when out and about, in the gym etc.

The important thing is to make sure that the 20% who care or could care about audio quality at home are catered to and not turned off by marketing idiocies and excessive prices.

julesaudio's picture

For casual listening in often noisy environment such as the subway or a car in traffic. Most people dont actually have a fixed "stereo" any more. And in cases where the "stereo" exists it is likely deeply flawed, and the (effective) filter of lossy compression may be a net benefit to intelligibility in the listening space.
This is all the more unfortunate in that there is an ever expanding catalog of music in every category.

realhifi's picture

Not surprising really. if Apple had made their music available in higher resolution and made a big fuss about how good it was then the buying public would have just followed along. Unfortunately I think that ship has passed. I'd be surprised if Apple does do anything like that because of the seismic shift we are experiencing to streaming.

realhifi's picture

If Apple or someone else can make streaming cd quality mainstream THEN we might move forward.

Orangemath's picture

I expect to purchase a 2 k$ range DAC, but only if its MQA. I own a Metrum Octave MK 2 now. When Tidal streams MQA, then the search starts.

BTW Tidal at $20/month is the biggest bargain in audiophile land. While a good file or an LP is better (Linn/LKV Research), I can live with Tidal, but not Apple or Spotify.

AudioDoctor's picture

and their eyes would gloss over if someone attempted to explain the difference to them.

Topher's picture

"Which format should I download?

The default download format is MP3, and this is probably what you want. These files play back beautifully in iTunes, Windows Media Player, your iPhone/Android phone, etc. and include high quality cover art, accurate artist and track names, and lyrics when available. Our MP3s use variable bit-rate encoding (VBR) to shrink the size of the files while maintaining the highest quality, so you get fast downloads and can fit more cool island songs on your iPhone.

You can also download in FLAC, ALAC (Apple Lossless), AAC, Ogg Vorbis, WAV and AIFF formats. These options are, as we say in the interface, for "audiophiles and nerds." If you aspire to become either, this isn't a bad place to start."