At least 2.3 million people preferred to download Radiohead's In Rainbows from torrent sites rather than the band's own site, a survey this week reports, even though the cost was the same: Zero.
The band has kept the "official" In Rainbows download figures a closely-guarded secret, but the research suggests that over 400,000 unofficial downloads were made in the first day*, trailing off to around 15,000 as the experiment continued. By comparison, weekly downloads of Panic In The Disco's Pretty Odd peaked at almost 158,000 and Gnarls Barkley's The Odd Couple at 128,000.
The authors, Eric Garland of P2P monitor and consultancy Big Champagne and Will Page of the UK collection society MCPS-PRS Alliance, admit it raises more questions than it answers.
"There are too many unknowns, too many variables and - given it's a black market - an understandable lack of evidence to even generalize towards an answer," they write.
But the discussion document does address the difficulty of luring habitual P2P users away from sites like Pirate Bay and Mininova, which we addressed a little more succinctly when we asked: When the music costs nothing - why do freetards prefer to leech?
The authors compare the big P2P destination to familiar "venues", like your local pub.
Such sites "are popular because of their brand reputation, convenient location, superior value proposition and ease of use. Of course it is not popular to point this out - because these 'pirate sites' enable the free (uncompensated) exchange of vast quantities of the world's most popular entertainment content, they are considerably more widely used than iTunes, HMV, and all other retailers…combined," they write.
So even with legal P2P, we're invited to infer, users will continue to use the unlicensed sites. They offer a theory as to why which will dismay music marketers. Radiohead merely required an email address from a downloader, but even this was too much to ask:
"Consumers go to venues where they feel comfortable, and what we've learnt from the ambitious and admirable experiments of Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails is that a large part of that comfort is the ability to stay anonymous," Page and Garland conclude.
There's little doubting that the publicity stunt was a huge success in luring Radiohead's lost fans back to the band, and finding new fans. After closing the tip-jar experiment band in December, the band sold two million CDs (on Beggars' indie label XL) and added dates to a sell-out tour.
Yet even with all that success, the band said it won't repeat the experiment - nor recommend it to others.
Back in April, Thom Yorke described it as a "one-off response to a particular situation".
You can download Page and Garland's study for free here (pdf) . Or you can try PirateBay... ®
<Bootnote Not 400,000 in the first week, as suggested in an earlier version of this story