Radiohead Downloaders Preferred Illegal P2P To Legal Free

imageSome 2.3 million people skanked Radiohead’s latest album from BitTorrent sources during the two months it was legally available for free. A research paper from P2P monitor Big Champagne and the UK’s MCPS-PRS royalty collector said the “staggering” number “far exceeds what outsiders have reported as the estimated download total from the bands official website, regardless of whether those downloaders paid or not”.

Why? Maybe so many people are already downloading the rest of their albums from torrents, they simply couldn’t be arsed to type in their browser. The bottom line is that legal free was trumped by illegal free. The research, by MCPS-PRS chief economist Will Page and Big Champagne CEO Eric Garland, said discoverability may have been a factor, citing early teething troubles with Radiohead’s website as one reason freeloaders stuck with P2P.

But that’s wishful thinking. In Rainbows torrent downloads peaked on the first day data was collected, October 27, at 400,000 – what Page and Garland call “a bloody big number”. How big? More than double the top torrent through March and May (Panic At The Disco’s Pretty Odd) got in a whole week (ie. 10 times Panic’s daily average).

The report’s “venue hypothesis” posits net users have simply become accustomed to using technologies like Gnutella, BitTorrent and trackers like Mininova. What’s more, “an off-limits venue may be even more appealing” to the core youth market. So illegal is now entrenched, it’s habitual and the business faces an uphill struggle to change that.

Counterpoint – Nine Inch Nails’ free The Slip album was downloaded more from than torrents. And In Rainbows reached number one on both sides of the Atlantic on proper sales.

Radiohead refuse to answer the question everyone’s asking – how much did they make from, and how much did people choose to pay? Artist managers at this year’s Midem, citing inside knowledge, said the average was £2.90 but as much as £5. The band rubbished comScore’s (NSDQ: SCOR) estimate downloaders paid an average $2.26 but Thom Yorke has said Radiohead “have done really well out of it.”

MCPS-PRS’ Page is super-insightful and will be speaking at our EconMusic conference at London’s Natural History Museum on September 23.

(Photo Angela N, some rights reserved)