the future of free MP3 search forces a strategy shift for music sales.

Artists sometimes ask me why I focus my books on earning revenue from touring and merchandise sales, instead of from boosting album sales.

In response, let me introduce you to Arizona State University Economics and Finance major Hasan Siddiqui. The school’s newspaper just profiled the website he created, It’s a search engine that hunts down free MP3s from any artist you put into it. I clicked on the Google-esque search bar, typed in “The Beatles,” and pretty much the whole catalog came right up. Clicked on “Hey Jude,” and a perfect digital copy’s on my desktop. No torrents or P2P software, either. Just a straight MP3 download.

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Forget the arguments around what’s “right,” what’s “legal,” or what’s “fair use.” From a user experience perspective, this is what young audiences have come to expect. A simple search box that lets them grab whatever they want, right now, for free:

“This is a positive because it is more convenient and you don’t have to download it like Limewire, which causes viruses,” business sophomore Daniel Cano said. Downloading the artists’ music is not going to devalue their success, Cano said.

With that attitude growing among young listeners, it’s becoming more important than ever to think about how to turn that initial interest into real, lasting, audience support.

Whether he likes it or not, Siddiqui’s going to end up getting schooled, sued, or worse by folks who really won’t appreciate the simplicity of his code. Hopefully, he’ll tell investigators that it’s just a “proof of concept,” and he uses this to get a sweet programming gig. However, if a college senior can do this in his spare time, how much longer can the music business hold off audience demand for easily found, free MP3s?

And are you going to build a revenue strategy for your own work based on trying to get money for something audiences clearly expect for free?