That was predictable

Is anyone really surprised by the latest headlines from Radiohead’s recent In Rainbows release?

Fans were invited to put their own price on the 10 MP3 files that made up In Rainbows, from nothing to ?100.

But internet monitoring company Comscore found that only 38% of downloaders willingly paid to do so.

Well you can count me among the 62% majority. To be perfectly honest, I had every intention of paying something for the album, but instead I left disappointed with the whole thing and a bit let down by the hype.

So what went wrong? First of all, I’m all for avant-garde web site design and breaking the mold, but something still bothered me about the In Radios web site. Maybe it was too Web 1.0 for it’s own good. I wanted answers and instead found only one-line quips about how it was “up to me”. Well yeah I gathered that, thank you very much.

Secondly and most importantly, am I the only one who expected to be able to listen to the album before deciding how much it was worth? Maybe that option was on the site somewhere, lost amidst the psychedelic background… but I didn’t find it. I suspect may others would have encountered the same problem. How do I value something when I don’t really even know what it is?

Could I have tried harder to pay for this album? Sure – I could have probably searched for a sample of the album before hand. I could have returned to the site after initially downloading it for free to purchase it for my “fair” price. Did I do those things? No of course I didn’t . Partly because I couldn’t be bothered and partly because when it comes to music I’m what I call an “instant gratification listener”. If the mood strikes me to listen to a particular music that I don’t currently own, I wan’t to be able to hit the play button and be on with it. Years and years of downloading music for free will do that to a person, I suppose. Oh don’t look at me like that – it’s not like I haven’t tried. I purchased Kayne West’s first album on Puretracks… then I lost the licenses after a Windows re-intall and bought a non-Windows Media media player. Then I swore never to buy DRM again.

The point is, music distribution is still fatally flawed – especially for the “instant gratification listener”. I won’t go into all of the problems facing the music industry – David Gratton does a good job of commenting on that with a local spin, if you’re interested in reading more. Instead I have a solution to propose. It centres around one key question: When are people most likely to pay for music? You know those moments when you’re listening to a song, and it just draws you in so far that it completely transforms who or where you are? Those are the moments that make me go “damn, I wish I had paid for this song.” And yet when the headphones are out that thought is gone. If the labels and artists want to capitalize on their music, then they should be working on ways of capitalizing on that feeling that great music gives you – however fleeting it may be. And please don’t tell me how much that feeling is worth, let me decide.

As disappointed as I was with the In Rainbows experience, at least Radiohead is heading in the right direction.


  1. Peter

    November 8, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    A 38% paid rate is actually quite encouraging. I guess there are three levels of trust:

    1) Pay only if you want
    2) Pay for unprotected mp3s
    3) Pay for DRM-protected wmas or aac (or whatever the iTunes format is)

    I see the next step in the right direction as being option #2, which is used at indie music store and that Universal did for some of their music on a limited time basis…


  2. allan

    November 9, 2007 at 11:57 am

    If you think that Radiohead gave you the future business model, you’re mistaken.

    Radiohead executed a well-planned publicity stunt. They released a teaser of a record and called it an album for people to pay whatever they wanted to pay plus promoted the presales of a full-priced box set.

    The reality is, Radiohead’s management are shopping the complete “In Rainbows” record to any label willing to take on the project that is contains the extra tracks. So if you indeed purchased the download version, are you now expected to purchase the CD when it comes out in the new year to get the extra songs? If it was a truly revolutionary business model, they would have just gave the album away for free in its entirety and hoped that people liked it enough to buy tickets and merchandise at their shows.

    AND, this isn’t the future of music. Sure, this would work for Radiohead, but what about the indie-band struggling to build an audience who now have to give away their music? Could they expect to make a living on their ticket and merchandise sales?

    While I agree with you that Digital Rights Management and licenses for music downloads is a bad way of selling music, I don’t think Radiohead’s recent stunt is the way forward.

    The music industry should be concentrating on promotional activities where the consumer gets free music of their choice with the purchase of a consumer item.

    For example, get 5 free songs with the purchase of Gillette razors. Then everyone wins. Gillette see a rise in sales of razors, the customer is happy because they get 5 free songs and the labels and artists are happy because Gillette will have paid promotional dollars to tie a music offering to their product.

    End result, music should be free to the consumer, and the consumer should be able to access it, wherever they want and whenever they want.


  3. Derek

    November 9, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    Allan: On your first point of In Rainbows being a publicity stunt, I certainly wouldn’t argue against it. On the other hand, I’m not sure that really mattered… I personally didn’t mind that it was only 160kbps or that I wasn’t getting the “entire” album. In no uncertain terms, we really were “getting what we paid for” (if we so chose).

    In regards to promoting music as a “freebie” with consumer items: yes, it could work for some bands (indie especially), but I have to say that if I were an artist I might feel somewhat offended. Maybe it doesn’t matter so much when you’re struggling to pay the bills but if it were my music I’d like to think it was worth more to people than an extra in their razor pack.

    I’m probably being far too idealistic, but I’ll stick by my belief that if you give people the opportunity to compensate artists based on what the music is worth to them, the listener, everything will even out in the end.


  4. Peter

    December 4, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    I see you’re giving in to the pingback and trackback spam. BAD.


  5. Derek

    December 13, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    Grr, so much spam. I’ll try Spam Karma, see if that helps.


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