radiohead: it’s up to you

To fans long famished for a new Radiohead album (we’ve been waiting since ’03, with an admittedly lovely Thom Yorke solo effort last year to tide us over), there came today some very welcome news: their latest record, “In Rainbows,” is due to be released October 10th (hallelujah!). What’s worth noting here is how they’re doing it. With the release of their “COM LAG” EP in 2004, a collection of mainly b-sides from “Thief,” Radiohead wrapped up a 6-record contract with EMI. Rather than renewing or seeking a deal with another label, the band bucked the industry, opting to take charge of its own distribution. Well today they announced their first major act as their own boss, a simple website where you can pre-order (and soon purchase) their new album in two forms: 1) a beautiful collector’s discbox (pictured above) containing a CD (with bonus tracks and digital photos), two vinyl records, artwork and lyric booklets, all “encased in a hardback book and slipcase”; and 2) a digital download. Price of the discbox is 40 British pounds. Price of the download: it’s up to you.
Clearly, the band figures that these days mp3s fall more in the gift economy sector of making and distributing music. The big money is to be made off of touring, or, to a lesser degree, through the sale of lovingly crafted physical artifacts packed with all the juicy supplemental stuff that fans revel in. But yes, it’s true: a small transaction fee notwithstanding, the download can theoretically be obtained for nothing. I expect, though, that this good faith gesture might predispose fans (including this one) to voluntarily cough up 5 to 10 bucks (or rather, quid). It’s a very cool move on Radiohead’s part, one that acknowledges the fact that valuation of digital media is today very much an open question, and that figuring out the answer is best done not by the industries but through dialogue between the makers and the listeners (and all those folks in between).
Click the ?:
Another quick thought: by offering a pay-what-you-want download of the entire album, Radiohead is in a way cleverly pushing back the larger trend in music buying/sharing/pirating of disaggregation: i.e. tracks as the fundamental unit rather than whole records. They’re one of those bands whose music still justifies the album form and is crafted to fit that shape. Naturally they’ll do what they can to ensure that people experience it that way.

4 thoughts on “radiohead: it’s up to you

  1. bowerbird

    i was just gonna mention radiohead in this thread:
    > /blog/archives/2007/10/penguin_enlists_amazon_reviewe.html#c151035
    us artists can beat “piracy” to the punch by
    making our content available for _nothing_,
    if that’s all someone will pay (and that _is_
    all that a pirate will pay, by definition, and
    it’s silly to pretend that option isn’t there).
    your fans will find ways to reward you in return.
    you do have fans, right? because if you don’t,
    you ain’t gonna be makin’ any money anyway…
    this is not just the new way of the coming world;
    it’s how artists can _correct_ the _greed_model_,
    which has nearly destroyed our planet and is the
    _real_ problem with the world today, not “piracy”.
    let’s just hope it’s not too late…

  2. Edward Visel

    I’ve heard of other bands trying to buck the companies and, in some cases, encourage illegal downloading, while trying to make money off of concerts and non-music merch. sadly, it’s never worked as far as i’ve heard, but it will be interesting to see how this new ‘pick your price’ paradigm works out for radiohead financially. it seems too simple to really fix this messed up market economy in any substantial manner, though.

  3. bowerbird

    anyone who wants to know what’s up
    in the music biz should read lefsetz.
    bob lefsetz has a listserve-slash-blog —
    sign up for the more-complete listserve
    — where he tells people the whole truth
    (and he’s totally unafraid to call the
    blooming idiots what they really are,
    and there are _lots_ of idiots in music)
    about where that sphere is going, and —
    since music is a bellwether for it all
    — how the future will present itself…
    there’s no one i’d rather read than lefsetz.
    absolutely no one.
    he’s a breath of fresh air. he delights me.

  4. Eddie A. Tejeda

    This really plays to the guilt of the loyal fan, doesn’t it?
    I’ve never second guessed copying Radiohead albums before (They are signed and are plenty rich, right?) But now that they are asking me name a price, I am forced to acknowledge that they deserve to be compensated for their work.
    This seems get between the cracks of the fan base and get people who usually don’t pay, paying.

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