Print 48 comment(s) - last by Oregonian2.. on Nov 14 at 3:34 PM

Is Radiohead's "In Rainbows" a flop or a blockbuster?

Politically-fueled Indie/Alternative Rock band Radiohead stood up to DRM and record label's campaign of terror against music listeners when they offered listeners the ability to name their own price and receive their new album via an Internet download.

The band broke headlines in early October when it announced that fans can get the new album two ways.  First, they can go online and download it at whatever price they want -- from free to 99.99 GBP.  Downloads began October 10th.  Serious fans could also elect to purchase a box set, with a CD version of the album, vinyl copies, art books and bonus tracks for a mere $81.75 USD.  These box sets will ship on December 3rd.

So nearly a month later the record industry, tech-observers, politicians and music lovers are scratching their heads collectively and trying to figure out whether Radiohead's album was a success or a failure.  The basic problem is that the band itself hasn't released any information on sales figures yet, so it is hard to tell what is real and what isn't since all sales are done exclusively by the band's website.

In the U.S. and the U.K., a 12 percent royalty to the CD artist about the best an artist can expect, and typically the artist is hit with many additional fees of various sorts by the label.  This means that on the average CD, which costs around $12 to $14 USD at major retailers, the band will make around $1.00-$1.50 USD.  On the other hand, little bands find it hard to "make it big" without a label, as labels are willing to front bands large amounts of recoupable expenses if they think the band has significant ability to make it big. 

A very good read on this topic, is "The Problem With Music" by Steve Albini, independent and corporate rock producer, who is most famous for producing Nirvana's "In Utero".   The article, which can be found here, reveals that on a typical "hit" rock CD, the label might make around $710,000 USD, while a member of the four-member band would only make about $4,000 USD in net income.  Of course, some artists obviously wildly surpass these figures, but these are typical numbers given by someone very entrenched in the music industry.

To top it off, record companies have adopted draconian tactics in using upstream takedowns on torrent sites, spies and massive lawsuits against individuals and groups which share music.  Several bands, including Nine Inch Nails, headed by Trent Reznor, and Radiohead have thrown in the towel and said the record labels have simply gone too far and are no longer necessary.

The real quandary is, as idealistic as these statements sound; do they make economic sense for the artist?  This has left many holding their breath, waiting to see what happens.

Well, the first news has been from internet research firm comScore.  comScore reported that only about 38 percent of people downloading the album paid for it.  Among paying fans, Americans on average paid the highest amount, at $8.05 USD per download.  Fans from other countries average $6.00 USD and 17 percent of paying foreign fans paid only a penny to $4.00 USD.  Finally, comScore found that on average (including non-payers) the album sold for $2.26 USD.  A source close to the band was referenced in a Wall Street Journal article as saying that 1.2 million copies of the album were downloaded on the first day of release.

If accurate, it would mean that Radiohead made nearly $2.7 million USD before expenses, during its first day of sales, an incredible figure.

Some observers were pessimistic about these results though and state that the band could have done much better with a traditional business model. Average profits of $2.26 USD, they say, is nothing to cheer about.

Radiohead released a statement countering these comments and also disputing comScore's figures.  Radiohead said:

"In response to purely speculative figures announced in the press regarding the number of downloads and the price paid for the album, the group's representatives would like to remind people that, as the album could only be downloaded from the band's website, it is impossible for outside organizations to have accurate figures on sales."

This is true --  comScore did not get information directly from Radiohead's site; rather it used voluntarily installed information gathering software that allowed music listeners who bought the album to respond about how much they paid.  While comScore has a solid user base over 2 million voluntary users, many feel that certain kinds of internet users may be drawn to comScore, skewing demographics. 

So if comScore is wrong, did "In Rainbows" fall below its estimates or did it beat them?  Some see Radiohead coming out to deny the statements as an indication that "In Rainbows" exceeded the estimates.  It’s all speculation until the real data comes out from Radiohead.

However, despite the uncertainty, many music figures are already weighing in on the band's success or lack thereof.   Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor congratulated Radiohead for bravely fighting the system, but he feels their business strategy was flawed. 

Reznor is following a different business strategy on his release of Saul William's album, "The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust."  He is offering fans only two options:  either download the album for free or buy it for $5 USD.  Furthermore, all options are not created equal; the $5 USD version will be in 320 kbps MP3 or FLAC lossless audio tracks, while the freeloaders will only get lowly 192 kbps MP3.  Reznor hopes that the improved track quality will lure many audiophiles to pony up five dollars for the paid option.

Ultimately the success or failure of this movement rests largely on two factors -- how well optimal distribution mechanics can be developed and, most importantly, on the average music listener's attitude and level of altruism.  Obviously, acts such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails are unlikely to totally flop in their efforts, due to a large, loyal fan base.  Whether their efforts will lead to surprising success and catch on with smaller acts nationwide, though, relies heavily on these factors.

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RE: Reznor getting it right
By RubberJohnny on 11/13/2007 4:54:29 AM , Rating: 0
Yeah, I read a book about the music business, written by an insider (might have been the same person, I don't know...
So you read the whole book and never took in enough of the details to recognise/remember the author? way to skim read!
As to Radiohead, having heard the first 30 seconds of some of their work on one of the websites with previews, I'd say that if they get anything at all, they're doing good...
I can understand that radiohead's music might not be everyone's cup of tea but if this is the way you decide what constitues good/bad music you need your head read by someone with better comprehension skills than your own.

RE: Reznor getting it right
By Oregonian2 on 11/13/2007 3:38:38 PM , Rating: 2
So you read the whole book and never took in enough of the details to recognise/remember the author? way to skim read!

Sorry, I read it a few years ago, and perhaps unlike you, I read more than one book a year, so I just don't remember the authors's name. I've read thousands of books over the years and I probably only recall the author's name on a minority of them. Their name is usually only on the cover and I'm usually reading the innards, so I don't see it very many times to make an imprint unless I like the author enough to want to read another one (like Evanovich for instance, read hers like popcorn).

I can understand that radiohead's music might not be everyone's cup of tea but if this is the way you decide what constitues good/bad music you need your head read by someone with better comprehension skills than your own.

Yeah, I'm a radical outsider. I judge whether music is good or bad by listening to it. Just call me unconventional. Oh yeah, and I'll speak my opinions too. That we seem to have in common.

RE: Reznor getting it right
By RubberJohnny on 11/13/2007 8:59:31 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I'm a radical outsider. I judge whether music is good or bad by listening to it. Just call me unconventional...

But 30 seconds of it? Then you dismiss it as crap? Maybe Eminem is more your style where he's thrown 20 catchy "hooks" at you in that first 30 seconds? Here's a hot tip for you, the best music is not always the most accessible! Some artists material take 3-4 listens before they "grow" on you enough to make you want to purchase the album, most of the time these end up being the albums with the most longevity.

Alot of radiohead songs go for around 4 mins and don't follow a simple chorus/verse structure. The end portion of the song can be completely different to the start. Since the album is essentially free why didn't you download the whole thing and give it a decent go? Then i might respect your judgement a little more.

Can you tell i'm a radiohead fan? Then again i'll listen to pretty much anything...

RE: Reznor getting it right
By Oregonian2 on 11/14/2007 3:34:11 PM , Rating: 2
But 30 seconds of it? Then you dismiss it as crap?

That's what I have available, and it's those site's intention that I see how good or bad it is using that clip. That's the limit on many sites I've run into over the years. If it can't "hook" me in the first thirty seconds (much like if the first fifty pages of a book can't get my interest up) my opinion is likely to be negative. May just mean that it's not terribly commercial in nature (where an upfront hook would be of great benefit). Being non-commercial would sufficiently back up my original comment that I'd be surprised that they'd sell much without a lot of record company support (at least for their initial work before working up a fan base). Although my huge CD collection may not seem to back me up on this point, I don't try to buy any/all CDs in order to listen to the whole pieces multiple times in order to prove to myself they are indeed crap. I've a few that I think that way about now, but didn't have that expectation when I bought them.

"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il
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