Radiohead’s free distribution yields results

Written by Phil Cogar

November 8, 2007 | 10:35

Tags: #choice #digital-distribution #download #music #radiohead

Shortly after a study showed that P2P sharing increases CD sales, the revolutionary method Radiohead has used to distribute its new album that allows users to dictate their own album price for a download has announced its initial results.

Probably unsurprisingly, 62 percent of the people who downloaded their new album In Rainbows opted for the free method. However, of the remaining 38 percent, 17 percent dictated a price of between a penny and £2.00. 12 percent, the next largest group, chose a price between £4.01 and £6.00, just shy of what most albums cost on iTunes in the UK. An additional six percent chose between £2.01 and £4.00, and four percent were generous enough to dictate a price between £6.01 and £10.00.

Again unsurprisingly, record company associates such as Chris Castle, a seasoned music attorney and record executive, have quickly dismissed these numbers. Mr. Castle has stated that it’s way too early to try to extrapolate broad results from this one instance. He brings up the question of whether the band is making money – Radiohead has obviously still had to pay the costs to distribute music online, but hasn’t lost any revenue to record companies.

However, Castle wasn’t so quick to dismiss the practice altogether, stating "I think if (the music industry) had done this kind of thing a long time ago we'd all be better off." Castle has seen his rounds between working for A&M Records and representing popular performers such as Sheryl Crow, and brings up the fact that an album can be expected to generate money for at least two years starting from when the album is released and can be extended when a tour supplements an album.

Castle estimates that Radiohead earned between £4.5 million and £10 million per album while they were on contract with EMI, but EMI declined commentary on this subject. The average amount spent for each download equates to £1.13, and there was possibly a giant hike in the number of albums distributed.

"I may not agree with what they are doing but I think people should respect what the artist wants," Castle said. "If they want to give their music away, let them." He also brings up Radiohead’s much larger-than-normal following, and that these numbers can’t be extrapolated to all performers.

Trent Reznor, the front man for Nine Inch Nails who is also producing and releasing albums independently and digitally, has also chimed in. "I think there were some serious flaws with how they executed," Reznor said in an interview with CNET last week, "but it was a good idea."

However, record companies are taking notice of their customers' interest in digital copies. EMI has announced that it will release Radiohead’s first six studio albums and one live album with multiple formats to choose from; one of which being uncompressed WAV files on a USB drive for £83.50.

Have you already downloaded In Rainbows or have you even ordered the box set in true support of the band and devotion to higher-quality audio? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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