A story from a week or so ago in Forbes talks about how the new Radiohead album is being extensively pirated. Seems ironic for an album that you can legally get for free would need to be pirated, especially not at volume of an estimated 500,000 downloads.
Taking the song free legally could only be achieved if you registered for the “name your own price” download, directly letting the band know you had stiffed them. I understand how this might have driven some cheapskates to Torrent sites, but I do not believe this is the complete explanation.
It is human nature to build routine. We tend to eat foods we like, visit shops we know, and generally stick within our comfort zone for trivial tasks, primarily so we do not have to expend too much thought. I believe that a large number of the illegal downloaders probably went with what was easiest and used the same method they get the rest of their music.
It’s hard to do an imperical study on this, but it would be interesting. The numbers on their own allow for interesting though experiments, but greater detail would give us information. I feel the story this tells is more around how convenience is a key factor in driving behavior of this sort. While the legal method was not inconvenient, it will take a number of iterations over time to change peoples behavior. The clue that it might be somewhere on the right track, is that illegal downloads usually outstrip legal sales in the first weeks of an albums release. In this case the legal downloads were more than double the illegal. If this number continues to trend down over repeated releases, it would be a good indicator that a distribution method like this was effective.