Downloading unauthorised content is dominated by younger and wealthier Australians, but they would be interested in cheaper content made available more quickly, new polling from Essential Research shows.

Last week Essential asked respondents about whether they engaged in filesharing and other forms of free downloading of content, and their attitudes towards it. Thirty two per cent of respondents admitted to downloading material for free online, with 61% saying they did not. But 48% of people under 35 said they did, much higher than older respondents.

And filesharing increased with income, the Essential data showed: the highest levels were reported by those in the highest income bracket, with 40% of people earning more than $1600 a week saying they downloaded material for free, compared to only 26% of those on incomes below $600 a week.

While this presumably reflects lower income households having fewer online-linked devices and smaller internet access plans, even those on higher-middle incomes, $1000-1600 a week, downloaded less — 33% — than those on greater incomes.

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Why do people download? Out of those who say they download, they say it’s not particularly because it’s free: 18% nominate that as a reason, 9% because they say movies are too expensive. The most commonly identified reason for filesharing or other forms of downloading content was to obtain television or movie content not yet available in Australia, identified as a reason by 37% of those who downloaded. Another 21% nominated convenience of access.

Accessing unavailable content was particularly important for younger people — 48% of downloaders under 35 nominated that reason, compared to only 19% of older filesharers, although the latter were more likely to refer to convenience.

The role of convenience and access is further strengthened by the response about how current downloaders would react if the way content was made available was changed. Forty two per cent of filesharers said they would be ready to pay for content if it was made available across the world at the same time, and was available for a low price. They were roughly split evenly between those who’d be willing to pay a subscription to get access to content and those who’d pay à la carte.

Interestingly, older downloaders were most resistant to paying for content — 48% of downloaders over 55 said they’d keep on downloading for free even if cheaper content was more quickly available, compared to 39% of those under 35. It also rises with income — those on the lowest incomes were most willing to pay for content; those on higher incomes, significantly less so, especially middle-income earners.

While the data may reflect an element of underreporting by people who don’t want to admit to filesharing, even anonymously, it suggests that content companies could slash “piracy” nearly in half by making content available without delays and at a lower price — particularly given the extraordinary level of gouging that is inflicted on Australian consumers, compelled to pay often twice as much for music on iTunes as American users, and particularly given younger users are most open to paying for content.

The results also suggest copyright industry attempts to convince consumers that downloading is a form of theft may fall on deaf ears — the free nature of “pirate” content is less of an issue than what is perceived as the unwillingness of content owners to provide content to consumers at the same time across markets.

As to whether such results would encourage the copyright industry to actually try giving consumers what they want rather than attempting to impose a surveillance state on the internet, that’s another matter. There’s little evidence so far the industry pays attention to what’s happening in the real world rather than what it would prefer to be happening.