Radiohead's Business Head

Posted by: Jon Fine on October 01, 2007

I’ve written elsewhere about how I don’t much care for Radiohead’s music. But what they’re doing with the selling of their just-announced new album is nothing short of brilliant.

For starters: Radiohead—probably the biggest unsigned band in the world—is putting out said album, In Rainbows, without any record label. For another: If you want to buy a digital download of the album, you go to Radiohead’s Web site and pay … whatever price you want to pay.

Getting physical copies of In Rainbows does cost something, but for a high price one gets a pretty luxe package.

The full story, from a very excited Pitchfork writer:

A new Radiohead album, out October 10! Nice surprise, huh? It’s called In Rainbows, duh. And it appears that Radiohead have chosen to not sign with a record label and are releasing it themselves via their website, at least for now.

And that’s probably the least crazy aspect of this whole thing.

You can pre-order it from their website right now as a download or a “discbox.” What’s a discbox? Why, it’s pretty sweet:

“THIS CONSISTS OF THE NEW ALBUM, IN RAINBOWS, ON CD AND ON 2 X 12 INCH HEAVYWEIGHT VINYL RECORDS.
A SECOND, ENHANCED CD CONTAINS MORE NEW SONGS, ALONG WITH DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHS AND ARTWORK.
THE DISCBOX ALSO INCLUDES ARTWORK AND LYRIC BOOKLETS.
ALL ARE ENCASED IN A HARDBACK BOOK AND SLIPCASE.
THE ALBUM DOWNLOAD AUTOMATICALLY COMES WITH THIS PACK.”

That will run you 40 pounds, or about $81 as of today. (Which next week could well be $85 or $90, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.) But:

And lest you think Radiohead are ripping their fans off, check this out: If you order the download only, you can pay HOWEVER MUCH MONEY YOU WANT for it. Like, there’s no set price. Like, I just paid eight bucks for the new Radiohead album.

Maybe you can pay zero dollars?

Or 35 cents, for the entire 18 song digital package. (UPDATE: My bad—digital download is restricted to 8 songs. Thanks to commenter Albert for pointing this out. UPDATE, MACH II: Make that a ten song download.) Radiohead is trusting its fans to do the right thing, or something approximating the right thing.

And I tend to think they will.

File under “needless to say:” It’s very hard to imagine an actual big-deal record label attempting anything like this.

(Hat tip to my colleague and BusinessWeek art director Andrew Horton, who called this to my attention.)


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Reader Comments

Albert

October 1, 2007 11:21 AM

You don't get 18 songs with the download; you get disc 1 which is 8 songs, and only if you order the disc box set will you receive disc 2 and the remaining songs. "I don't care for your brand of journalism".

Matthew O'Dell

October 1, 2007 11:43 AM

First off, I am biased because I love Radiohead's music. That aside, I think this does make business sense. As a starter, Radiohead DOES have the bargaining power and place in the music world to shove the record labels aside. They then stratify their customer segments into deeply loyal or people willing to shell out $80 for the premium package and those who are looking for a convenient download naming their own price. The premium package will help them to recouperate costs quickly, but only if they can get it more easily distributed in the USA Currently, it has to be ordered from the UK. Then, allowing people to pay what they want for the album will deliver on-top of their recouped costs. Personally, I am going to listen to the album first to see how much I am willing to pay for it. I would give $25 for the highest quality album, and if I don't like it, I won't pay or even download it. But the message Radiohead is sending is "Our album is awesome. We're confident Radiohead fans will be willing to pay for it."

Jonathan

October 1, 2007 11:58 AM

Why not just download all 18 songs for FREE through p2p?

Don

October 1, 2007 12:02 PM

I think this continues to be a tough sell to artists who aren't at that level. I met with some mid-level artists used to selling 50-100k units per year this weekend and they said they "Weren't selling anything" and that no bands "are selling anything" this year and repeated the old adage that "back catalog is dead." More power to Radiohead for pushing the envelope, but like the bugs Bunny cartoon said, "it's a great trick, but you can only do it once." I mean, for a band whose biggest hits are behind them, they can rebox that material once or release a live cd, but that's it, by 2010 they need a new job.

and that's kind of wrong.

Brother52

October 1, 2007 12:08 PM

Not sure if I would classify Radiohead as the biggest unsigned band, or if this is the first time something like this has been done before. I know that Marilllion (http://www.marillion.com ) have been doing thinks like this for years. They even had their fans finance a US tour back in 1995, and they have used the pre-order model on a number of albums as well. Anyway, I think this is a good move for Radiohead, the Internet and for the music business in general … put the power of the music back in the bands hands.

joe

October 1, 2007 12:13 PM

You can not get that great quality downloading it through P2P. If you tell me otherwise then you are retarded. Last thing, RADIOHEAD SUCKS!!

Patrick

October 1, 2007 12:14 PM

I like the idea, but I wish you could download all of it off the website. Dividing the fan-base into 2 segments (real fans and casual listeners) is a smart business move, but unfortunately there is at least one more segment: real fans who do not have $80. Since I fall into this group I'll probably pay extra for the 8 and download the rest by other means. Seems fair... I think?

Wesley

October 1, 2007 12:19 PM

Actually, the download is 10 songs, not 8. If you click on the store, you will see a tracklisting. The 8 song CD is only available in the deluxe package.

bill

October 1, 2007 12:26 PM

Harvey Danger did this exact same thing two years ago, with some notable differences. You just instantly downloaded it from their website. The whole thing, not just part of it. If you liked it, cool. If you wanted to pay them, you could send them a PayPal donation, or just go buy the actual physical copy in stores for 15 bucks. If not, whatever, thanks for listening, feel free to keep the album.

I thought this Radiohead scheme was awesome until I realized a. you only get 8/18 songs unless you buy the only physical copy, b. which costs 80 dollars.

That's just kind of dirty.

alex

October 1, 2007 12:28 PM

Harvey Danger did this exact thing a couple years ago and I thought it was so cool I went right to the site and bought the album for $5 or something. I never listened to a single song though.

Phillyjohn

October 1, 2007 12:41 PM

I wouldn't pay 85 bucks for a vinyl and art I'm never going to use. I'll just go on lime wire.

Nik

October 1, 2007 12:42 PM

You can get as good quality as you want using p2p as long as you know what you're doing (I think those that can't might deserve the very poor taste pseudonym you've attributed to those that can... joe), although in this case I would highly recommend playing along with radiohead.

This is a bold move, and one worth paying attention to (and paying for). While $80 is a little steep, you have to assume that Radiohead aren't publishing a run of millions of these packages - and it would make sense that the price would follow suit. They are pretty nice little packages.

GetAclue

October 1, 2007 12:54 PM

If you're a fan who some how can't afford buying an 80 dollar CD, then get two other friends to download the other 10 songs you couldn't download and all pitch in for the cost of the CD, or what you feel it's worth.

If you can't afford the CD, doubt you can afford to see a show then.

Gabriel

October 1, 2007 12:54 PM

Brilliant idea. I'll pay 40 quid in a heartbeat - the music is great of course, as it always is with Radiohead, but they are one of the few bands that produce artwork that is worth seeing (i can't think of Ok Computer without the artwork). Bet Hard-Fi thought they were being real revolutionaries with their whole 'no cover art' thing - take a look at what proper revolution looks like you muppets.

Rodrigo

October 1, 2007 01:05 PM

Prince was the first to do this 10 years ago...

Ted Nugent

October 1, 2007 01:06 PM

It's cool that Radiohead is striking out on their own, but I don't think this "album" comes packaged in enough flavors. I'm not a big enough fan to spend $81 on 18 songs and plastic from any artist. Where's the $10 CD with all the music and the poorly drawn cover?

PS - p2p is so last century. TORRENTS.

Karolis

October 1, 2007 01:06 PM

Albert, you are wrong. And now the article is wrong and lying. You get a 10 song download. Which is a huge difference by the way =)

Rob

October 1, 2007 01:07 PM

To follow up on Don's comments, indeed an auction model or free download of new music is an impossible way for emerging artists to prosper financially, but I salute Radiohead for using it's worldwide popularity to attempt something new versus staying with the status quo.

Our group Harvey Danger sucessfully offered our last full length release "Little By Little" as a free download. Over 100,000 downloads later we've found our attendance at live performances has increased and in many cases, the persons who downloaded the new recordings later decided to purchase other items including the tangible CD itself.


Rik

October 1, 2007 02:11 PM

Correction:
TEN (10) songs are available with the digital download "you name it price"...not 8.

Andy

October 1, 2007 02:14 PM

My thoughts on the situation:

Props to Radiohead. I never quite understood why people could honestly expect me to pay close to the same amount of many for a bunch of 1's and 0's that cost virtually nothing to replicate, as a hard cd in a store. There SHOULD be a substantial price difference.

I think the 10 song download is fair. I'll be paying ~5 dollars for the album. For the person who asked why not download from P2P for free? Well, you could do that if you choose to, but I'm more than willing to reward a band with some money for putting out music that I enjoy. Its a lot better than paying a record company an outlandish price for that same music I enjoy.

I'll be interested to see what the average price a fan pays it, and I hope this teaches the digital music industry to adjust their pricing.

Don Myers

October 1, 2007 02:27 PM

You don't have to applaud them...but I most certainly will. ( I hope the boys see these comments as well)
This is a brilliant move with all sorts of different repercussionary effects that can and will help artists be in control of their art. Not just music either. There are so many things that this does. Yes other people have tried to do this before,and I'm sure the band doesn't give a rats hoo ha about the credit of that, so let's move on about them TRYING to be trendsetters, or whoever has done something similar to this. Even if they did try something similar they weren't Radiohead and they didn't have a hundred million fans either. By the way,as far as trendsetting, they don't have to TRY anymore. They set the trend by george, and if you don't get that by now you're either too young, too old, or enrolled in "special" classes at the nearest community centre. With every album they have raised the bar by making new, exciting and beautiful music.
This also gives the band an opportunity to see what their different demographic is and what their fans WANT to pay for their art. For some of us who absolutley LOVE this band we're willing to shill out some more poundage for them because it's a sign of respect and love for what their music has done for us. For some it may be just a minimum price because maybe they can't afford much more right now, or they may never really pay all that much for music and this is an opportunity to show what they really think it is worth. There is no doubt that growing up, some albums we're too expensive,and had I been able to afford it I would have definitely bought and listened to more music that would have been enjoyable to me also expanding my tastes and experience. Sometimes we also don't completely LOVE an album until it grows on us. There have been plenty of times that I wasn't crazy about a certain record at first whether it be that I had different expectations, or whether or not that sound had connected to me yet. In this format you pay what you think and if later it gets better for you, pay for something more. Or not, obviously, at this point, they're not waiting on my check to pay the water bill. BTW I will be downloading the album and paying five pounds for the download and I will order the discbox as well because I LOVE the fat sound of vinyl and love Radiohead's art work as well. Cheers for big ears, challenging fears over years, giving us sounds that have given me tears.
Peace

rameniac

October 1, 2007 07:21 PM

most of you guys (including the article writer) are looking at the whole 10 out of 18 songs thing the wrong way. the ten songs constitute the ALBUM PROPER, and the 8 tracks on the 2nd cd are just bonus cuts. so it's not like you're missing any part of the album in that sense. you could say that the 8 additional tracks are just for the completists and hardcore fans, which seems pretty reasonable to me.

Don

October 2, 2007 09:07 AM

More power to Harvey Danger. But people should note that while the band has a Seattle/Olympia pedigree with a Kill Rock Stars release, they might be best known for an appearance on the American Pie film. The licensing money associated with appearing on a million selling DVD is going to be far more lucrative than for a similar Kill Rock Stars band. Radiohead is actually a better example of a "regular" band trying this than Harvey Danger because of the latter's "novelty hit" type status. No one's ever said the band wasn't nice, but the band was lucky in ways other bands weren't and from what they posted here, maybe not entirely understanding of their special situation in life like an heiress who doesn't get why you can't go skiing with her.

Computerden

October 19, 2007 07:01 AM

great idea hope this catches on with all bands

Jason

April 1, 2008 12:09 AM

I prefer getting an actual album that you can store on your bookshelf. Getting an electronic copy just seems like a rip off some how. What do you think?


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pamela

May 29, 2009 05:30 AM

I like the idea, but I wish you could download all of it off the website...

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