Friday, October 12, 2007

Radiohead Shakes Up Music Industry by Offering Digital Album for Free

British band Radiohead has caused a lot of stir in the music industry as of late by offering its new album In Rainbows as a digital download via its Website for a price that the consumer decides. Yes, you read that right: add to cart, and pick your price!

The music industry has really been put through its paces these past few years: music downloading has become increasingly popular, physical CD sales have dropped, and P2P Websites have led to everything from the unauthorized distribution of music, to lawsuits against college students. Radiohead's move is probably the boldest in a series of tactics I've seen over the past few years in an effort to help re-invent the category: from ad-supported digital download sites, to buy-a-player-and-get-a-free-music-download cross-promotions.

This raises a few questions: for one, do music labels even serve a purpose anymore? Radiohead has been without a label for years, and has obviously acquired a large enough group of fans to be able to do so. Reports indicate that over 1.2 million people purchased the digital album since it became available on October 10, some paying as much as 100 Euros for it! True, Radiohead already has an established fanbase, and that is undoubtedly credited to the music label it worked with previously. But with the Internet, sites like YouTube and MySpace, and other, alternative methods of digital music distribution, are music labels becoming defunct? Or perhaps their position just needs to be re-evaluated within the changing digital music landscape.

Second, can music artists still maintain a profitable business by offering their music online for free, or at a minimal cost? Ask me to choose how much I can pay for something, and I'm likely to pay as little as possible! Supposedly Radiohead's album can be downloaded for as little as 45 pence (or $0.99), which simply covers the credit card handling fee.

Still, many online reports are questioning whether this move was just a marketing ploy to generate sales of the physical In Rainbows CD, which is said to be released in 2008. After all, the tracks arrive to purchaser's PCs at the abysmal quality of just 160 kbps, which leads one to believe that they're only meant to be a "preview". Even so, would you rather fans pay $0.99 for a preview of your album, or nil for moderate-quality digital versions of every tune through a P2P site?

Whatever Radiohead's reasons were for doing what they did, they certainly accomplished one thing: making a stand for music, digital distribution, and a consumer's right to obtain tracks in a way that suits him.

[Photo: When you add the digital download of Radiohead's new album In Rainbows to your basket, you'll find a little hyperlink question mark beside the price. Press it once, and the message "It's Up to You" pops up. Press it once more, and the band reassures that you can pay what you like: "No Really. It's Up to You" reads the pop-up.]

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