Better than Free?

01 Oct

So, possibly the biggest announcement in music in decades….

On Monday, the British band, Radiohead, announced that since they have broken away from their label — EMI — they are offering their new CD for download and get this….YOU DECIDE HOW MUCH YOU WANT TO PAY.


Of course, you can elect to pay only 1p (one penny sterling), but there is a 45p credit card processing charge. Therefore, the tracks are, in effect 45p which is still half the price of iTunes. The band is likely going to make as much, or more, than they made with the label. I’m hoping that someone is going to report on what the average price paid really is. I’m going to bet that it ends up being close to, or in excess of, the iTunes track price of 99 cents. It’s reciprocity. Radiohead is offering something revolutionary and the music public will pay them back by BUYING their music (for a reasonable price). In fact, I’m guessing that they will sell a lot more music than they’ve ever sold…and to folks who’ve never purchased their music.

The announcement, this morning, produced overwhelming volume that temporarily halted their site. The telltale quote from the article:

James Bates, media and entertainment director at Deloitte, said: “Radiohead are clearly trying to build an independent business model that suits their needs. Unless record company giants wake up and find a model that delivers real value to artists, technology will continue to be used to bypass the record companies, and in comparison piracy will seem a relatively small problem.”

Ko-RECK. While this has been done by more obscure “indie” artists, never has a band as popular as Radiohead defied the music bosses to this magnitude. This will be interesting to watch. How will “the biz” try to retaliate? What will they do to try to stem the tide of change?

Of course, you die hards who still require the physical CD can shell out the 45 pounds for the box set with fancy books and liner notes. They will, no doubt, sell plenty of these — from their own website, as well — to their core fan base while the everyday fan and casual listener will gladly pay the 45p per track. Affordable music for the masses…those who might never have given Radiohead a listen. New fans. More dollars per track and CD sold. Sounds like a win/win, to me.

A new paradigm in music sales on the horizon? Most definitely.

Here is the beautiful link to Radiohead’s In Rainbows.


Posted by on October 1, 2007 in Marketing, music, music biz


7 responses to “Better than Free?

  1. brc

    October 2, 2007 at 8:24 am

    It’s a great idea and a bold experiment. I know they’re getting lots of P.R. for this right now, but what’s to draw the casual listener to their website to buy the album? It seems that, at least at first, only the core fans might even know about it. I guess it also depends on whether breaking away from the label impacts their radio play.

  2. music maven

    October 2, 2007 at 8:51 am

    Well, that’s the beauty. They can advertise on music blogs, search engines, etc. I know that it limits most artists to the web, but those like Radiohead can do major ads directing folks to their url. As Lefsetz says, though, it’s “all about the buzz”. Here is more of what he says re: Radiohead.

    So I’m driving down PCH and one of my favorite songs ever comes up on Deep Tracks, Pete Townshend’s “Pure and Easy”. Originally released on Pete’s 1972 solo album “Who Came First”, this is the extended eight minute take from the “Lifehouse Elements” CD that came out decades later.

    Both versions have a homemade feeling. Like Pete cut them alone in his bedroom, which he kind of did. Neither release was accompanied by deafening fanfare. This was not a Who album, this was for FANS ONLY!

    And I’m a fan. I traveled cross-country with “Pure and Easy”. And “Let’s See Action” from the same initial album. I know every word, every lick, every note. And I’m sure some of you out there do too. You know the simple secret of the note in us all. But most don’t. My buddy riding shotgun had never heard this track, and he’s about my age. I felt he’d missed out, but I didn’t really care, I was in REVERIE!

    And I started thinking how I’d like new music just like this. And then I realized that Pete had concocted a new Who album, just last year, AND NOBODY CARED!

    You’re supposed to sign with a major label, and they’re supposed to carpet bomb your record into success. But their odds of doing so today are positively miniscule. For every Kanye West, there’s a million other albums that no one ever hears.

    Radiohead has a fanbase. Many people HATE the band. But that makes no difference. Thom Yorke and company don’t give a shit about these people. They’re not going to release four singles in an effort to get somebody’s mom to buy their album at Wal-Mart. Radiohead is GIVING UP on the mainstream. That’s one of the stories being glossed over here. They DON’T WANT the major label’s effort, they don’t think it’ll pay off. As a matter of fact, they believe it will ALIENATE THEIR CORE FAN BASE!

    Everyone’s focusing on the bread. But you only follow the money if you’re a businessman. Whereas Radiohead is comprised of artists. The music comes FIRST! What a concept. One that has been placed in the trash as the majors and the complicit media hype vapidity to the far corners of the earth.

    Now if this were some flavor of the moment, throngs of people would be buying their new album download for 1p. They’ve got no relationship with the band. They’re into the DEAL! Fans don’t want a deal. They’re willing to cough up all their money to cement the relationship. They need the eighty dollar box less to listen to than as badge of honor, to show their friends.

    It’s not about the penumbra, it’s about the CORE! Satisfy the CORE!

    Radiohead’s core is not listening to Top Forty. They don’t have a radio station on either AM OR FM. They go directly to the source. They need no filter. And Radiohead is going directly to them.

    Radiohead is niche. And niche survives. And except for the occasional train-wreck, everything will be niche in the future. It will be less about converting new people than holding on to your base. And, new people will be brought IN by this base, via their evangelizing. You see Radiohead is akin to a religion.

    It makes no difference that you don’t like Radiohead. Makes no difference that they get no radio play. They’ve got their own cottage industry. Which they’re managing brilliantly. Rather than burn out the field, they’re not taking every opportunity, they’re letting certain aspects lay fallow. Who are endorsements going to reach? Oh, you get a check, but the newbies aren’t for keeping, and the core is thrown off. You’re THEIR band, not Madison Avenue’s, not Cadillac’s.

    And there’s enough money in the core. Maybe not enough to get on the Forbes list, but what does that list represent, is that where you really want to be? Is our culture really winner take all? Is it really all about the money? Tell that to the Radiohead fan. He just wants to revel in the band’s music. That’s as good as sex to him. Maybe better if he’s not getting any.

    Think about that. Radiohead has created something its fanbase can’t live without. And that’s the music. It’s a return to basics. We’re back where we once belonged.

    You make a good point about increasing awareness, but I think once this kind of model catches on, cottage industries of “music mavens” will emerge that will “point” people to music. While I think that the web addresses hard core, techies who know where to look, there can be newspaper, magazine and even TV “pointers” — think People’s “Download this”.

    I think you miss the point on the radio play. Radiohead (and others) are starting not to care about radio play. Let’s face it…they’re lucky to get even one song played on terrestial radio. They have a fan base that will support them via live shows and concerts and this new strategy will expose them to others who might never have heard their music — certainly not on the radio.

    So, wouldn’t this model work brilliantly for one Taylor Hicks? Basically, give away tracks to expose potential fans (like we all did with the live pre-idol tracks)to the music. Sell the $50 box set with pretty glossys of the Silver Fox with lyrics, liner notes and personal antedotes to the Soul Patrol. They provide the “core” financing, so to speak by purchasing the high end stuff and providing the nucleus at concerts. New fans are developed by those purchasing the “cheap tracks” to see what “all the buzz” is about — of course, you have to create the buzz. However, now you’re just fighting the PR battle and not the label and their shinanigans and politics. It could work.

    Last thought — Prince GAVE AWAY tracks on his last CD in the UK and proceeded to sell out 100 shows throughout Europe. Now, I know he’s Prince but I have to think that the sellout crowds were more than old Prince freaks from the ’90s. New listeners likely comprised a large portion of the crowd.

  3. Gray Charles

    October 2, 2007 at 9:31 am

    Jane Siberry has been doing this for quite sometime. Check out her site

    for an even more “unique” method of pricing. Of course, she isn’t as big as Radiohead but it that’s what it takes . . .

  4. music maven

    October 2, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    Interesting that in Sheeba’s model the average price is $1.18 even though they offer a “free” alternative.

    Perhaps the music listening public isn’t a bunch of thieves and do believe in the value proposition.

  5. morewines

    October 2, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Boy has this ever been discussed all over the place.

    Yesterday on my radio station. The airstaff
    said they would be willing to pay $10 for a
    physical CD and $5 for a download.

    Here’s a thought. Musicians could buy 30 and 60
    second spots on radio stations and play their
    music. That would be one way to get their
    music on a radio station.

  6. Jan

    October 3, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    MM: I am excited that Radiohead is doing this. I don’t know the music of Radiohead but I have heard of them. I will know know the music when I download their latest CD as a show of support.

  7. music maven

    October 3, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    Right on, Jan. And, because it’s affordable, you may just find a new band/artist that you may never have ventured to listen to.

    That, dear friend, is the point.


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