Print 22 comment(s) - last by Andrew Campbel.. on Oct 10 at 2:15 AM

Radiohead to give away free download of new album

Major political alt-rockers Radiohead have a new album that is brewing a storm of interest due to its unique distribution model.  The band will distribute the new album In Rainbows independent of a major record label from their webpage.  

Fans have two options for acquiring the new album.  The first is a discbox set containing CDs, heavyweight 12” vinyls, supplementary artwork, extra tracks and booklets.  This package costs 40 pounds, about $81.75 U.S., includes an on-line download, and is set to ship by December 3, 2007.  

The real head-turner here is option number two: download the album at whatever price you choose.  That’s right, customers are given the option to pay anywhere from zero to 99.99 GBP, the latter limited by the size of the price entry field.  

The full length MP3 set will be available for download on October 10, 2007 using an activation code e-mailed to customers who choose to “purchase” the download.  Customers purchasing the discbox will also be able to download the album on the tenth.  

It is hard to say at this point whether this approach will prove to be a competitive business model, but it is certain to generate tremendous interest and accolades from Radiohead’s fans.
It is more difficult than one might think to argue against this model considering the nature of the Web 2.0 economy. 

Many of the Internet’s most popular products, Google, Yahoo! Mail and Wikipedia, all give the majority of their content to users for free.  Further more the barrier to piracy is so low that most content can be taken for free by anyone willing.  Author Chris Anderson, “The Long Tail” is going to explore this topic in his next work, tentatively called “Free: The Past and Future of a Radical Price.”   

So what we have here is an outline of a  business model for the “Brave Free World.”  Embrace the fee-free zeitgeist of the web.  Decriminalize the consumers who won’t pay for content.  Maximize your profit by capturing the most wealthy few percentile of customers by maximizing their exposure to your core product.  

In this case the core product is Radiohead, not the album.  Giving away the album should greatly broaden its distribution and the exposure of wealthy consumers.  They will capture the wealth of this upper crust through high value packages like the discbox, world tours, and who knows what other cool things that are worth paying for.  

The only piece of the Web 2.0 business model that Radiohead’s plan is missing is embedded advertising.  Given the band’s philosophies, I don’t think we will be seeing this anytime soon.  

I know everyone is wondering, so I did some research and yes, entering zero for price really does work.  This is not the worst thing that could happen to the band since I will pay for concert tickets to see the band, as I have before, and if the album knocks my socks off I will also pay for  a hard copy of the CD. 

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By TomZ on 10/1/2007 4:25:31 PM , Rating: 2
This is a brilliant move by Radiohead - it works at all levels. With low overhead, most people will probably pay something, and like you said, they have the deluxe kit for hardcore fans. Radiohead has been very successful to date, and so this offering also acknowledges they probably have already earned enough money to ensure a comfortable living even without tons of new revenue from this album. I also think this is a nod or thank-you to Radiohead fans as well.

RE: Brilliant
By killerroach on 10/1/2007 5:18:53 PM , Rating: 2
At the very least, I just got a full album for two pounds fifty. Can't beat that.

RE: Brilliant
By TomZ on 10/1/2007 5:45:27 PM , Rating: 2
I was thinking about buying it for about the same US$5 or maybe $10, based on the assumption that I'll also buy the CD when it comes out next year, assuming they do a "traditional" release as it has been rumored.

RE: Brilliant
By tcsenter on 10/2/2007 2:23:24 PM , Rating: 1
Radiohead offers new album online, allows consumers to decide price
'Between-the-lines' reading:

A very successful touring band with over 10 million albums sold, all of which it owes entirely to the 'old' business model (representing those corporate interests against which their political music loved to rail), decides it can well-afford to experiment with a new business model that lets consumers decide whether to pay (or not) thanks to the millions of dollars and fame it already made on the 'old' business model, and in doing so, tells not-yet-known bands its too bad for them that they were born 10 years too late.

It is indeed a brilliant marketing plan. How do you get people to actually buy your music? You don't! Give the music away [ostensibly] for nothing, hitching your [marketing] wagon to a wave of anti-RIAA sentiment, and all the lemmings will want to reward you by paying $80 for a nifty merchandizing fan-pack.

Totally self-serving, devilishly manipulative, and completely contrary to the band's perceived 'altuistic' or 'common good' political pretenses, but brilliant.

Reminds me of when Justin Frankel decried AOL for being so profit-minded and that, as a new shareholder, he wanted AOL to be a more charitable corporate citizen... after Frankel got his $50 million from AOL, of course. lol!

i.e. "OK, I've got my $50 million, now I want the company to be kinder, gentler, and less profit minded."

I guess Frankel overlooked that AOL had already performed one of the most charitable gestures in corporate history - paying many times more for Nullsoft than it was worth (irrational exuberance being a sign of those times and all).

RE: Brilliant
By SirLucius on 10/2/2007 2:59:18 PM , Rating: 3
You need to keep in mind two things, though.

1.) A distribution method like this wouldn't have been possible 10 years ago. Even if Radiohead had wanted to do something like this, how would they go about it? Send you the CD for free and then ask you to send back some cash if you like it? No sir, that wouldn't work at all. Only with the recent boom of a digital distribution of music would this be possible.

2.) Radiohead isn't the first band to do this. One example that comes to mind is of the indie progressive metal band, the pax cecilia. They had a similar distribution method. You could download their album for free or give like a $10 donation, or you could order their CD for a slightly higher fee. Nobody made any fuss about this because, well, nobody has heard of the pax cecilia. In order for a distribution method like this to become accepted it'll take a well known name like Radiohead (that has presence in the market and an established fanbase) to push it forward.

Saying that this is Radiohead's way of saying sorry to new indies bands is just a little unfair, especially since I think this distribution method could be more profitable for bands than the old one.

RE: Brilliant
By TwistyKat on 10/2/2007 3:09:51 PM , Rating: 2
Well, it's a great idea and I like it, but it wasn't brilliant on their part. Jane Siberry is already doing this.

RE: Brilliant
By hatapcofan on 10/1/2007 5:06:00 PM , Rating: 5
driving the cost of music to zero will only further help cut out the middleman (stupid record companies)... money is made from touring and merch, period. and with the cost of distribution near zero (except advertising which in Radiohead's case not really necessary since they are the critical darlings of the press) let fans pick a price, and whatever they decide to pay, gravy to the band (it will probably cover production costs of recording if anything). it also drives an important notion that a band should make their bread playing shows, and if they are good enough, they will have lucrative careers (cause we are sick of the over-produced wanna-bees like Britney and company)
thanks for listening

RE: brilliant
By wordsworm on 10/5/2007 12:47:27 PM , Rating: 1
money is made from touring and merch, period.
Some bands don't like to tour. Portishead comes to mind as one of those. They're also heavily produced. Yet I also consider them to be quite unique, not to mention talented. I don't think that the business model should change so drastically that groups like these cannot maintain some profitability for their efforts.

Sure, I don't like Britney much either - but you have to admit, she looked pretty good in red PVC. In any case, it's not for you or eye to judge for anyone but ourselves. The artists or the rights purchasers ought to be able to maintain rights over their art.

I'm curious, would you consider the likes of JK Rowling to also be required to do tours in order to make a living with the novel itself at the mercy of counterfeiters? Or how about movie actors and their entourage have their movies act as merely a front to their Broadway performances? How about the rights of models to their images? Should the rights over the images have no protection at all so that models and their agencies can only make money from live appearances where there's a cover charge? Why is it that most people in these forums seem to think that only musicians shouldn't be afforded protection over their copyrights? Maybe drug companies shouldn't have their drugs protected if someone can synthesize the same medication, and the pharmaceuticals should have to do lecture circuits in order to earn a wage. By the way, I've seen Stallone's small yacht (I seem to recall it had only 3 floors with capacity of around 200). Well, it seemed small compared to the pharmaceutical owners boat (although I can't remember the bugger's name). Those government protected and regulated drug lords make a pretty penny I tell you.

I might not like the RIAA very much, but they're nonetheless doing something very important: letting Americans know that they can no longer steal artists' work.

Culture, society, the law need to work together to protect the distribution rights of artists in a fair way that gives control over the sale entirely to the rights holder while maintaining fair rights usage to the individual who purchases a legitimate copy. Regardless of whether or not the artist wishes to tour, they should have access to whatever business model they want and have people who want their music decide whether or not the price they're asking is worth paying for the pleasure that the music brings to them.

for music, this model has teeth
By Quiksel on 10/1/2007 4:31:07 PM , Rating: 2
Any real fans pay money for their music... If you love a band to death, you WANT to support them. Sure, not everyone loves every artist they listen to so much that they'd pay huge amounts to listen to their music, but there's always a core crowd that would sustain many a good artist. Radiohead knows this, and this will probably work out rather well for them.

My favorite band right now (Porcupine Tree, btw) has this kind of hold on me and my money. I think it's a fantastic model, and similar efforts to circumvent the normal label and directly support your band is what any real fan wants to see.

I hope it nets them MAD money. We all hate the RIAA, what better way to show them their days are numbered.


RE: for music, this model has teeth
By glynor on 10/2/2007 11:13:23 AM , Rating: 2
You know... It's funny. The last physical CD I bought (and the last bit of RIAA-label music I've paid for) was Amnesiac when it came out way back in June of 2001. Since then, I've been paying for indie label music but refused to buy anything where money would go to the RIAA.

I just ordered In Rainbows and I paid a fair price (which was much more than they would have gotten from EMI). And I will probably pay to go see them live again if they come anywhere close to me.

I particularly liked this quote from this Time article:,8599,16669...

While many industry observers speculated that Radiohead might go off-label for its seventh album, it was presumed the band would at least rely on Apple's iTunes or United Kingdom-based online music store 7digital for distribution. Few suspected the band members had the ambition (or the server capacity) to put an album out on their own. The final decision was apparently made just a few weeks ago, and, when informed of the news on Sunday, several record executives admitted that, despite the rumors, they were stunned. "This feels like yet another death knell," emailed an A&R executive at a major European label. "If the best band in the world doesn't want a part of us, I'm not sure what's left for this business."

While many industry observers speculated that Radiohead might go off-label for its seventh album, it was presumed the band would at least rely on Apple's iTunes or United Kingdom-based online music store 7digital for distribution. Few suspected the band members had the ambition (or the server capacity) to put an album out on their own. The final decision was apparently made just a few weeks ago, and, when informed of the news on Sunday, several record executives admitted that, despite the rumors, they were stunned. "This feels like yet another death knell," emailed an A&R executive at a major European label. "If the best band in the world doesn't want a part of us, I'm not sure what's left for this business."

By s12033722 on 10/1/2007 7:11:38 PM , Rating: 2
But I am going to buy this album. I am going to pay $1 a track, however many tracks it is, because I want this business model to catch on. I doubt I will listen to it more than once, but this is well worth supporting.

By ajfink on 10/2/2007 12:19:08 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I don't really like them either, but I'll be buying this online simply out of principal.

By smitty3268 on 10/1/2007 6:49:45 PM , Rating: 3
Most of the money gained by selling CDs already goes to the labels anyway, so by cutting out the middleman and appealing directly to the fans I wouldn't be surprised if they end up making more money this way. Especially since a lot of the people who pirate instead of paying $20 may be willing to throw in a buck or two if given the choice.

I love this idea
By SirLucius on 10/2/2007 10:54:05 AM , Rating: 2
I love Radiohead and I love this idea. Allowing me to decide how much an album is worth is definitely a direction I'd like to see more bands go. The people that wouldn't have payed for it if there was only a CD release aren't effecting Radiohead sales negatively, and they'll probably be able to get a few people who otherwise would have pirated to toss in a buck or two. In fact, I'm more inclined to give Radiohead a few extra dollars just because they have the balls to say "You decide."

People love choices, and when you give them choices, they respond kindly. Box them into a corner though, and they'll do what they can to piss you off just out of spite. Seems like Radiohead might be catching on to this.

Paid my $30 :)
By Darkskypoet on 10/2/2007 4:53:54 PM , Rating: 2
Never, have i ever had a problem paying artists for their music. Seeing as though under the contracts record industry utilizes, I simply can't do that. :(

But I really, really, really hope that other established artists ending their contracts, go this route. I may not be able to pay $30 a pop... but I'll damn well give them more then BMG, Sony, EMI, Universal et cetera.

Kudos to Radio Head, I know my money goes to you, and not to some slimy record exec.

Downlod Now Available
By Andrew Campbell on 10/10/2007 2:15:20 AM , Rating: 2
Just downloaded the album. First track reminds me of Amnesiac.

This would be good news if...
By porkpie on 10/1/07, Rating: -1
RE: This would be good news if...
By therealnickdanger on 10/1/2007 4:48:28 PM , Rating: 2
I enjoyed them until the album after Kid A (don't even remember the name now). It was a tad too... experimental for my tastes.

RE: This would be good news if...
By TomZ on 10/1/2007 5:06:06 PM , Rating: 2
That's funny. I'm a big Radiohead fan, and I remember seeing them once on Saturday Night Live when they played Idioteque. It was the first time I heard anything from Kid A, and I remember my jaw dropping down and asking my wife WTF is that?

They even made this top 10 list of most memorable SNL moments:

Even rock fans who've never understood the appeal of Radiohead's tuneless, quasi-experimental phase can wrap their heads around the band's SNL performance of "Idioteque," from perhaps its most "difficult" album, Kid A. On disc, the Kid A material is ragged and jagged, and at times purposefully off-putting. Live, "Idioteque" in particular becomes a kind of invigorating nightmare, as Thom Yorke whines about an "ice ace coming… this is really happening" while the band cranks out an otherworldly, escalating noise. When the song abruptly stops, it's almost a relief. The world ends. The world spins on.

But after listening to the CD a few times, it really caught on for me, as did Amnesiac. If you haven't listened to Hail to the Thief, then you really should give it a listen. It's more straight-forward than Kid A and Amnesiac.

RE: This would be good news if...
By gramboh on 10/2/2007 6:08:17 PM , Rating: 2
I saw them in Vancouver on the Hail to the Thief tour (late Aug 2003) and it was one of the best concerts I've seen live. As you point out, the Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail stuff is amazing live, a lot different than on the album. I personally prefer OK Computer and The Bends, but I like it all. Hopefully they do a world tour with a few stops in Canada.

FWIW I will probably buy this for $10, even if it's crappy 128kbit. No one has brought up the audio quality yet, one of the main reasons to buy CDs is if you have a decent sound setup, as even 320kbit/V0 VBR sounds like crap compared to CD. Maybe they will have a FLAC?

By Sulphademus on 10/5/2007 10:36:59 AM , Rating: 2
KMFDM sells their music directly as well. They don't have a pay-what-you-want option but its normally 10$ +/- a few for an album's download @ 196k.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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