In Rainbows, On Torrents

This post takes its title from a paper (pdf available), the main question of which is: did Radiohead’s “offer of their album ‘for free’ succeed in diverting traffic away from Torrent sites, and (back) towards their own ‘venue’ of”

For ‘In Rainbows’, we are able to present global BitTorrent downloads on a daily breakdown from 10 October to 3 November 2007. In total, a staggering 2.3 million torrent downloads were made during this period – that far exceeds what outsiders have reported as the estimated download total from the bands official website, regardless of whether those downloaders paid or not.

Note that the authors have to rely on estimates of downloads from Radiohead’s site. That said, the fact there there were millions of torrent downloads in less than a month is, if not “staggering,” at least impressive.

So why did so many people use torrents to get something they could have got for the same price (free) from Radiohead’s site? The authors propose the “venue hypothesis” that: “people are more likely to act habitually (say, using The Pirate Bay) than to break their habit (say, visiting”.

There’s a lot of interesting discussion in the report and elsewhere (see links below) about this and other hypotheses, and about things like stimulus versus substitution effects. Did the free download stimulate payment for other Radiohead stuff (the CD itself, live shows, merch) or did it substitute for such payment?

I read about the report via At Ease and Wired. Having provided the obligatory links, I’ll add a good old-fashioned citation: Page & Garland (2008) ‘In Rainbows, On Torrents’, Economic Insight No. 10, Available:

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