Radiohead: What the?

By JoCo October 1, 2007

Radiohead has announced that their new record “In Rainbows” will be sold as a digital download with flexible pricing – fans can choose how much they want to pay for it. They’re also selling a physical item, a kind of superbox with a bonus CD (and some LP “records”!) for 80 bucks. There’s no label, there’s no distribution deal. I think this is a great move for them, and at the very least it’s an experiment the rest of us can learn from – I hope they’ll be forthcoming about the numbers they get. If I had to guess I’d say this plan will get the music to more ears, possibly generate less gross revenue on digital sales, but vastly improve their bottom line – their profit margin is going to be a lot higher than it would be with a label/distributor, plus this is likely to drive plenty more people to live shows and merchandise.

This is what you’ll get when you mess with us…


Demetrius says

If you guys keep it up the RIAA will have to send in the KillBots... (Did I say "KillBots"? I meant *SongBots*) to restore order! ;)

witten says

Now I've figured it out.. "arrest this man, he talks in maths" refers to JoCo and Mandelbrot Set.

Kyle says

I believe this is categorically, without a doubt, the way of the future. Bands make money on gigs, labels make money on the records. (Not that the bands make no money on records, but that's not where the big bucks are.) And I would be willing to bet that people are by and large scrupulous enough that a solid 40% of downloaders will feel too guilty to pay less than a buck or two for an album. That isn't really a ringing endorsement of humankind, but ... whatever.

SevinPackage says

Everything gets easier when you take the Corporate Red Tape out of the equation. Now, if only some laid-off auto workers could put a company together that makes affordable Electric Cars...

/Good for you, Radiohead, BTW!
//Karma Police, please don't arrest me too....

PonderousMan says

Wow... am I right that this would be the biggest "mainstream" band to take such a radical

Sounds to me like the first ring of the bell tolling the end of the "mainstream" music industry (sic)... and JoCo is just one of many people pulling on the ropes...

How long will it take until most bands' contracts run out (or are bought out) and everyone's just doing this themselves?

And think of the wonderful cottage industry of people running download sites, etc. (already out there, but bound to grow by leaps and bounds...)!

Spiff says

I'm torn. I'm actually thinking of getting their album for free and then paying them if I end up liking it and listening to it (which I think is proper), so by that measure, they are expanding their listening audience. But it seems like they could have just charged a reasonable $9.99 for the download, all of which goes directly to them, and not have had to lay awake at night worrying about the legions of bottom-feeders who are just going to steal it for free and never pay. I guess there's nothing keeping people from stealing it even if they were charging $9.99, but still... they're pretty much telling people that it's OK to steal it, which isn't good.

SevinPackage says

This is what Trent Reznor has to say about it.
Earmuffs, little ones (bad words ahoy!)

Greg says

Yeah. I'd love to have an actual CD, but $80 is a little steep especially since I don't want the LP's. I'll definitely pay $10-15 for the download, but I'm going to hold out hope they'll have something a little more traditional later. I hope they're going to be at a high bitrate.

Heather L says

Karma Police reference? *swoon*

This is truly a fantastic idea... I'd also love to see numbers on how this works out.

JoCo says

Spiff: here's my thought experiment. I don't know the details of their previous deal, but figure they were keeping some small percentage of the gross sales on downloads and CDs while the bulk of it went to other people. In exchange, these other people put CDs in stores, paid for marketing, fronted the money for recording, etc. Lets say the gross sales decline because of freeloaders (and my guess is they probably will) - that decline needs to get pretty big before Radiohead is any worse off. If the average price paid for a download drops by as much as say, 70%, I bet they're still getting more money at the end of the day That's all assuming the volume is the same, or as I suspect it will be, greater. And if it is, a larger audience means more fans, more tickets, more tshirts, etc.

Not to mention, and I think this is the real key to it, they're getting a TON of free press right now. And that's not an insignificant thing - come to think of it, I wonder how it changes the game once everyone's doing this and nobody cares about it anymore. In fact, wait a minute, those sons of bitches just diluted my brand!

Also, not for nothing, but I bet poor old Thom Yorke is already lying awake at night worrying about all sorts of things. ;)

Scarybug says

What do they mean by digital download, though? Will it be straight up mp3s (or oggs) that I can actually listen to, or will it be DRMed in some way that means I have to listen to it on a windows machine, or on an iPod only? My little Korean digital audio player wants to know!

filkertom says

I think it's fantastic, and I do think they'll make their money back and more. It comes back to something I've been finding, both musically and politically, for awhile now: It's not all about profit. Bottom-line short-term profit is, in fact, one of the worst ways to measure success.

Eric J says

I may buy it for 5 bucks or so, just to encourage them. And I don't even like Radiohead much.

shirosae says

Given their previous views on record industry anti-piracy stuff, and having DRM dumped onto some copies of their last album without their permission, i would be very, very surprised if the download was DRM'd up. It's also inconceivable that the band doesn't know what effect DRM would have on sales.

If it is, though, it's not like it'll take much more than five minutes for someone to rip it to VBR mp3 (or ogg) anyway. If you really wanted to, you'd still be able to buy the download, and ignore it in favour of DRMless tracks (and then email them to tell them you aren't impressed but gave them the benefit of the doubt this time around etc).

I'm thinking about buying both packages, but admittedly that's partially because i think it'd be /hilarious/ for this to be such a huge success that the music industry can't help but attempt to copy and pervert it, and for the public to then completely ignore them because they're a bunch of myopic unscrupulous fools. If there's even a small chance of that happening, i'm in. Besides, i really like Radiohead.

AJS says


Here's where I think there's a glitch in the bytes; While downloading and broadband are certainly WAY more de rigeur than ever before, there is still a huge chunk of the population that may not participate in both. The band is kind of saying' the hell with them'. CD's still make up a large part of music consumption, and while ever-declining, is obviously a market segment Radiohead is writing off, at least with this first round of sales. Maybe just a silver platter will be available soon for a direct order. This still would NOT work for any large country act.

JoCo says

AJS: Agreed - I think it would be a mistake for them not to ever sell CDs of this record, and I bet they will eventually.

PonderousMan says

In the spirit on AJS' remarks...

Surely going the CDBaby route (a much shorter, simplified distribution path) would satisfy the demand for "hardcopy", right?

I'm assuming that while CDBaby takes a cut for their services, it's nowhere near the 70% that the "conventional" path takes out, right?

PonderousMan says


s/spirit on/spirit of//

(and I've even had coffee this morning!)

Demetrius says

I wonder if this opens up a new opportunity for record stores. If they had a music kiosk with a CD burner, people who don't tend to get their music online could go online at the store, burn their purchases to a disk, print a label with album art, lyric sheets, blah, blah, blah... And, the record store could charge a fee above the cost of the music purchase for the hard copy. I haven't been to a record store for ages. Maybe they already have this.

Spiff says

JC -- yeah, but even though people can get lots of your music for free from the podcast, you still ask for a dollar per song on your site, which establishes a fair value. I'd be afraid that establishing the value of something as "whatever you want to pay" diminishes it unnecessarily, when people would otherwise be willing to pay a fair rate.

An example is how they do it at -- you can pay anything or nothing for a downloaded podiobook, but they still list a recommended donation per book to give you an example of what the author feels is fair. If you liked it more or less, you can alter your payment (or skip it entirely), but at least you see up front how much they believe their work is worth. I think that's important.

As we've all said, it's an interesting experiment, and I'm looking forward to finding out the results. I hope they share them in due time.

JY says

I'm imagining Radiohead is rich enough not to ever worry about eventually needing to get day jobs to pay the bills. ;-)

Molly says

Karma police quotey FTW.

ouija repair says

I read one post where the fan was scared away from his potential purchase by a "verified by Visa" notice and a request for a credit card number again, plus the last four digits of his social. Suspicious times in the world of tappity-tappity commerce.

Andrew says

I'm excited as all hell, to be honest. I could harp about the music industry's bass ackwardness, but I bet you guys are already aware of that. =D

I really hope that this sort of thing catches on, because I love getting everything from the intarwebz. Also, money in the pockets of the artists I like is my second favorite kind of money (behind the kind that's in my pockets, of course).

Roman says

Probably a good decision on their part to show they care, or at least seem to, about fans more than making money. If you do that, then you'll end up making money anyway...

Jeremy Williams says

I applaud this greatly. For two awesome reasons:
One: It takes the corporation wall out between the band and their fans.
Two: It sticks it to the people who say "Downloading music online is bad for bands!"
No, it's bad for corporations, especially when the people you're downloading it from is the band themselves. ;D

It might be nice if they still sold the physical copy of the CD though.
I'd burn it anyway, but I like CDs.
I can't exactly play all my mp3s when I'm on the radio.
((I could, but it'd be lame.))

Sean Wright says

Any band.musician willing to try a different angle to give the listener more value, while still making money for themselves, has got my vote. Record labels/distribution folk have had too bigger cuts for far too long. Long live the indie mentality.

Demetrius says

An article on Yahoo about the Radiohead release:;_ylt=At2eBBlIuDd8Hug0N88cdDes0NUE

"Radiohead album bets on fast release

By Michael Erman 1 hour, 37 minutes ago

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The release of popular rock group Radiohead's new album next week is the latest wake-up call for a music industry still struggling to deal with the advent of digital music, experts say. " ...

Mary says

1) AJS and JC: the physical CD will probably be coming out in January. The download and boxed set are advance releases.

2) This gambit worked on me. The last Radiohead CD I bought was OK Computer, ten years ago. (Kid A and Amnesiac were pretty hit and miss for me.) But I just paid about $5 for the download, which is probably 5 times as much as they got for my last purchase, and I'll open my ears to what they're doing now. Win-win.

Jennifer in Seattle says

French newspaper Liberation seems fascinated with Radiohead's decision, and cites a few more bands that are jumping from their record label ships. But no mention of JoCo.... you have not hit the Francophone world yet, Jonathan?,2301.html

Mike Dimmick says

One data point for you. My friend and colleague is a privacy nut. He said at the time that he was all set with his credit card to buy the tracks, but they were asking for all sorts of other data which he wasn't prepared to hand over.

So he downloaded it over BitTorrent. Not exactly the desired effect.

Eric Sink had some great advice for software companies: don't make people log in, you don't necessarily need a shopping cart, give customers the product right away. Make it easy for people to buy your product. In fact it looks like you've followed most of the advice in "Closing the Gap, Part 2" (, although possibly without knowing it!

(I realise this is long after this topic was posted, but I thought it still relevant.)