Having been snowed under with work recently, and being somewhat unsure of my writing ability, I have been keeping a list of topics to write about, “when I have the time”. After a few hours of catching up with my favourite sites and blogs, I have realised that I need to just write when I have something to write about. That is the only way that any of these topics are going to make it onto this blog, and the only way this blog might be something more than pointless. So here it is, my first off-the-cuff post in a while. And it’s a day or two late by internet standards.
Radiohead have announced the release of their new album, In Rainbows. Next week. This is interesting on many levels, not least of which is the fact that they managed to keep it a secret and not have the album or even any info leak. The part which I find most interesting, however, is the business model they are using. It is important to remember that Radiohead are one of the biggest bands in the world, with one of the most loyal fanbases around. There are few bands which could get away with this sort of model. Maybe Radiohead won’t either. I think they will, however.
Their business model, simply put, is this: sell a download version of the album, direct from your own website only. Also sell a deluxe hard copy of the album, with special packaging, the album on CD and vinyl, and a special second CD of bonus tracks, and also includes a download version to listen to until they send you your deluxe hard copy. Not particularly strange these days, you think, until you think about it a little more in depth. Selecting the download version presents you with a screen to choose how much you would like to pay for the album. Apparently it will accept £0.00. The band allow the fans to choose how much they believe it to be worth. I believe that this will actually make more money than by selling it at 99p per track (or whatever) on iTunes. Then give the hardcore fans something to get their teeth into, the deluxe hard copy. But give them the download version to listen to while they wait.
Couple this with the other facts: there is no record company involved. There are no record stores or download sites involved. The band’s PR company do not even have a copy of the album to listen to or promote the album with. There will be no promo copies sent out at all. This is a brave step.
Some may call this a childish stab at the music establishment. Some will call it a brave new way to cut out the music industry leaches, from record companies to mainstream radio, etc. Some (like me) will see it as a very interesting experiment, relevant not only to the music industry but to arts in general. This is a chance that this could turn the music industry on its head, in the way that people have claimed downloads will for years.
So if you are interested in the album, go and pre-order it. Pay what you think is right (I know that seeing that ‘honesty box’ for the download made me want to pay more than normal for it, not less). And if you love music packaging almost as much as the music itself, go and pre-order that beautiful deluxe box set. Like most Radiohead packaging, I was not impressed with the artwork at first glance, but have already come to love and admire what little I have seen of it. Another example of the grump old granddads of British rock showing the kids how it’s done (the new rave kids especially would kill for artwork and vision like that). It also reminds me of the wonderful Four Tet packaging from his last album, albeit a tad more ‘stately’ (Radiohead are getting on a bit now) and less Ecstatic.
And keep an eye on how this affects music andthe wider arts, and indirectly, all of us who care about culture.