Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Radiohead's Bold Experiment

Radiohead's new album, In Rainbows, is available today online only, for - well, however much you want to pay for it. If you have a boatload of dough, pay what you think a CD is worth. If you are bit strapped, pay a buck, or nothing at all.

Radiohead, currently without a label, decided to try this new idea to further break away from the big machine of the recording industry. Go here for more details.

Industry reaction is mixed. Some think it's a bold new experiment that helps wrestle control from the labels and puts it into the hands of the people. Others lament the move as something that will further siphon foot traffic from already-struggling music stores.

It will be interesting to see what happens. Radiohead can probably afford to try this and not make any money at all. They'll make it up in mechandise sales, live performances, licensing etc. Less established artists are probably less likely to see money from a scheme like this.

It reminds me of a few years ago when Stephen King rocked the publishing world be announcing he'd start selling chapters of a new book online for a buck a pop. If people paid for it, he'd keep releasing chapters. If people ripped him off, he's stop writing the book. Interesting notion. If I remember, people didn't pay, and he stopped writing the book!

But there is a difference between people wanting to read a book chapter by chapter on a computer, (or worse yet printing all those pages themselves), and downloading music you can take with you anywhere. That's why iTunes is raging success and e-books are still a pipe dream.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see what happens with the Radiohead experiment and who follows this model, or changes it somehow. Once again, the music industry is at a loss to adjust to the times and Radiohead's move today is another intresting reaction to it.


Barbara (aka Layla) said...

It certainly will be interesting to see what happens! There's been some conrtoversy over this but I think its pretty cool of them.

VoxMoose said...

Very interesting. I admire these guys for giving this experiment a shot. Sadly, I doubt it will be sustainable. Consumerism is strange (I can say this both being a consumer and watching other consumers). There is a delicate balance between psychology, sociology, and practicality that is all folded together. In your line of work, Isorski, I know you deal with this balancing act every day. Why is that if I see a Stephen King book in a bookstore or if a friend tells me it is a good read I'm perfectly willing to pay $7.50 for the paperback. However, if the same book came out chapter by chapter on the internet for a fraction of the cost I first assume it will be something substandard?

I had a similar reaction to this Radiohead album. My first instinct was "if these guys can't put a value on it, why should I even pay attention?" There must be something "wrong" with it. (It would be my first Radiohead album and I'm not sure I could identify anything they have ever done before -- yes, I live in a cave). My second reaction was, "but, wow, that's really cool. I'd pay a buck to listen to a band's new album.

Anyway, I think that a modern consumer instinctively puts a baseline value on something based on the asking price. For better or worse, there seems to be a "you get what you pay for" mentality. To set your own price, you either have to know what you want or know the intrinsic value to you. It is almost a bargain bin or garage sale mentality where you brace yourself for having to sift through a lot of crap before you get to something really amazing or interesting. With a higher asking price, there is an assumption (frequently false) that the product has somehow been "pre-filtered" for quality. IMHO, for this Radiohead experiment to work, some consumer unbrainwashing will have to occur.

Finally, just a brief comment on the idea of paying something pro bono to help support a (non charity) product. Some organizations can make it work (non profits, etc.), but they spend a huge amount of their time raising money through fundraisers, pledge drives, etc. As you mentioned, perhaps we can view the concerts and swag as “fundraisers’ to help bands put out free albums and music.

harmolodic said...

I like how they offered the "disc box" package and gave fans the download while waiting for the real thing to arrive in the mail. That's what I went for. The indie label Touch And Go has also been including free downloads with the purchase of some of their vinyl albums. They know we're going to want to share, so it's great that they're doing the "home taping" for us. That's the kind of thing I want to see more of, because personally, I want a physical product to go with my download before I'm going to consider forking over any cash. Call me old fashioned, but I *still* like to look at the artwork in a format that is larger than 5x5!