Art and Entertainment

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Radiohead Asks Fans, ‘What Is Music Worth?’

October 12, 2007 10:30 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
British rock band announces that fans can pay what they want for its new album, sparking a debate throughout the music industry over the place of free, downloadable albums.

30-Second Summary

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Since the group debuted in 1993 with the album “Pablo Honey,” Radiohead has seen its following grow into a zealously loyal international fan base.

So when the band announced that fans could pay as much or as little as they wanted to download its seventh album, everyone seemed to take notice.

On Oct. 7, the Times of London was inspired to run an article titled “The Day the Music Industry Died.”

Despite the portentous headline, what the piece revealed was not an industry facing demise at the hands of an ever-thinning profit margin, but rather one failing to adjust to changing attitudes about the role of records, CDs and downloads.

According to the Times, album sales worldwide are plummeting. As a result, savvy marketers and artists are increasingly using LPs as promotional tools for profit generation in other areas such as concerts and merchandising.

As intriguing as it may be to “make people think about what music is worth,” as Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood put it in an interview with Rolling Stone, giving consumers what they want is also a shrewd business move. So shrewd in fact, that a number of artists are already following suit.

Headline Links: Radiohead’s online move and 'In Rainbows'

Radiohead has cut out the middlemen, releasing its new album without a record label or a major distributing partner. However, Time suggests that digital distribution is not what it could be, and that “the smartest thing would be for the majors to collaborate on [the] creation of the ultimate digital-distribution hub, a place where every band can sell its wares at a price point of its choosing.”

Background: Thom Yorke in Time, Radiohead’s past album reviews, and Prince’s LP giveaway

Reactions: Interview with Radiohead guitarist, other artists follow suit, and British rockers voice support

Opinion and Analysis: 'In Rainbows' and the music industry

A message for the recording industry

Mike Masnick, of technology blog “Techdirt,” uses Radiohead’s move as a springboard to attack the Recording Industry Association of America’s insistence on battling digital file sharing with litigation. Masnick writes, “For years we've been pointing out business models involving free music that don't need require [sic] the RIAA to sue everyone. For years, we've been highlighting the very basic economics for why these business models will almost certainly take over the industry. And, now that we're starting to see some serious traction among bands adopting these models (without RIAA help), we've even explained why the RIAA should still have an important place within this model … For all of their suing activities, more file sharing than ever is going on … and more and more musicians are opting out of the RIAA mill to craft much more consumer-friendly business models.”

Related Topics: Other free online offerings and RIAA battles with file sharers

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