File-sharers may be the digital music industry's best friends, new research shows.

Research firm The Leading Question yesterday revealed new results that showed file-sharers spend four-and-a-half times more on legitimate music downloads than most music lovers.

The survey checked the buying habits of over 600 computer-owning music fans. It found that file sharers who, "regularly download or share unlicensed music and spend less as a result on CD", spend an average of £5.52 each month on legitimate downloads. In comparison, "the average music fan spends just £1.27 on digital tracks".

Valuable customers

Director of The Leading Question Paul Brindley said: "The research clearly shows that music fans who break piracy laws are highly valuable customers. It also points out that they are eager to adopt legitimate music services in the future."

The firm observes the music industry's move to prosecute offenders, but advises of a need to use "carrots alongside the sticks".

Time to build bridges

"Legal actions are making something of an impact but unlicensed file sharing will never be eradicated. The smart response is to capitalize on the power of peer-to-peer networks them to entice consumers into more attractive legal alternatives," the report adds.

File sharers are characterised as: "Often hardcore fans who are extremely enthusiastic about adopting paid-for services as long as they are suitably compelling", said Brindley.

The report concludes that digital music services should focus on offering "added value" to music buyers in an attempt to "migrate fans away from unlicensed services and towards legitimate ones."