Legendary rock band Radiohead charges "whatever you want" for latest album

By Paul Michael on 3 October 2007 (Updated 10 May 2009) 7 comments
Photo: Michell Zappa

It's making huges waves through the music industry, which is hardly surprising. Organizations like the RIAA have been trying, and failing I think, to crack down on illegal music downloads. And in response to this, Radiohead have decided to charge "whatever you think the album is worth" to download it in full (plus a small negligable transaction fee).

The new album, In Rainbows, is released on October 10th and promises to be the greatest Radiohead album since OK Computer (which by many critics' standards is one of the best albums ever recorded, and I agree.) If you go to the website here you can pre-order the download.

But more important than the album itself is the stand Radiohead is taking on the price. The band separated from their music company EMI in 2003 and have argued that there's no reason a music group can't promote and distribute an album without the backing of a major label. I for one hope they're right and strike a blow for handcuffed musicians everywhere. In fact, this could mark an exodus of bands leaving record labels if Radiohead is successful.

As you can read for yourself in this article by The Washington Post , the recording industry is doing whatever it can to hand on to profits by persecuting illegal music sharing. I think $30,000 per illegal song is overkill in the extreme, but this reaction is one to the massive mountain the recording industry has to climb. When it comes down to it, why pay for an entire album for anywhere from $10 - $20 when you can cherry-pick songs for $1 at iTunes or grab them free from places like Bit Torrent?

The price fixing conspiracy that the recording industry was involved in during the late 90's has already tainted their reputation with music-lovers everywhere. And when recording artists were pushing albums crammed with "filler material" for extortionate prices, it was inevitable that the worm would turn. And turn it has, completely, to the point where the music industry is on its knees.

This move by Radiohead is one of extreme confidence in their own music and in the good will of fans. No doubt many people out there will pay less than the price they'd pay for a full album download at iTunes, but I suspect the majority will pay way more than $1. And the reason...respect. I know I will be downloading the album for $10 because it will be worth every penny.

So, mark the date. October 10th is a day for great music and the beginning of great changes in the way we buy music, hopefully.

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Guest's picture
Gamermk

While I commend them on this new trend in music sales, the reality is it will never last. The first few that do it may succeed, but eventually the only way a band will make any money is if that "negligable" transaction fee is enough to survive.

BenS's picture
BenS

I don't understand your logic here, why is the 'negligable' transaction fee important at all in this case? If they're selling purely digital, the distribution and processing costs are very low, so nearly all the money goes right to the artist. 

Guest's picture
MAK

I love the idea but how do new artists get the money needed for promotion and touring without something like a label? Don't get me wrong the market is showing the multiple problems with the current revenue model and most of them can be laid at the doorstep of the major labels.

So this will work for Radiohead and other already 'popular' artists, but what about new artists trying to get radio airplay, exposure to new venues, websites with enough bandwidth to allow extensive downloading, etc? I don't have a good answer.

MAK

Guest's picture
Guest

bands that really care about their music are willing to give it up for free. you have to give it away for free before you are signed to a label, to get the word out. just the other day on campus, a local artist promoting his music stopped and gave me a full length CD for free. the only "artists" complaining about illegal downloads are self centered, money mongering d*cks. they are the ones who either started it just for money, or sold out; they are the not artists but do what a company tells them to so that both the record label and "artist" can watch the money roll in. a record label is just like any other company, they want to appeal to the masses, and rake in as much dough as possible.

Guest's picture

They get money from tickets, get money of new products with their brand, at the end their are a brand as any other.
See, Prince (or whatever is his name now) let his new songs to be downloaded for free and really after that he announced a new tour, that completely sold out.
Reinvention,

Guest's picture

If only to show my support of their efforts and hope that they are successful enough to encourage other "big" bands to try it as well. There are plenty of success stories of indie labels doing well and I think the future will likely be a combination of what Radiohead is doing and something like Dischord. Small boutique labels that can cater to a unique collection of bands and handle some of the more mundane chores.

So yes, while I can't stand the band I will definitely buy the album online for at least $10.

Paul Michael's picture

It is one incredible piece of good PR for the band. I also don't think it hurts that Radiohead are one of the most talented and original bands in the last 30 years. Something tells me that if Britney did the same stunt, she's still have to pay people to download her mass-produced garbage.