Radiohead's bid to revive music industry: pay what you like to download
· Band bypass record labels to get release out quickly
· Internet experiment lets fans put a price on art
* Owen Gibson, media correspondent
* Tuesday October 2, 2007
Their music has long been praised for blurring boundaries and breaking moulds. Now
Radiohead are hoping to establish a new model for the struggling record industry by
inviting music buyers to decide how much they want to pay for their new album.
To their biggest fans, eagerly awaiting their first studio album for four years, it is near
priceless. Those who believe Radiohead long ago descended into self-indulgence may
only risk pennies. But thanks to this ground-breaking experiment, the band will
bypass record labels altogether and will be able to put a fiscal value on the public's
appreciation of their art.
The release was announced with a short message from guitarist Jonny Greenwood on
the band's website, revealing that the new album, In Rainbows, would be available to
download from October 10. Orders started rolling in yesterday, with customers able
decide how much to pay - from nothing (plus a 45p administration charge) upwards.
Radiohead's "honesty box" experiment will be closely watched by other artists, their
record labels and management companies.
In Rainbows is the most high-profile attempt yet to restructure the economics of a
music industry struggling with the effects of digital piracy. Despite a booming live
scene, CD sales are less profitable than ever thanks to increased competition and
With the role of the internet in helping new acts from Arctic Monkeys to Enter
Shikari rise to prominence already well documented, more established artists are
attempting to revolutionise the way music is sold.
Prince caused uproar among music retailers by giving his latest album away with the
Mail on Sunday and yesterday the Charlatans said they would give their new single
and album away for nothing through the radio station Xfm.
"Why would you volunteer to join the army for 10 years unless you had no choice?
Record companies are a kind of army - very regulated," said Creation Records
founder Alan McGee, who manages the Charlatans. "Whilst live music and
merchandise sales are booming, physical sales are steadily decreasing with more and
more fans simply burning tracks from friends or free download sites. The band will
get paid more by more people coming to the gigs, buying merchandise, publishing
and synch fees. I believe it's the future business model."
But Nicola Slade, editor of the music industry newsletter Record of the Day, sounded
a note of caution, speculating that not all bands could go it alone in similar fashion or
afford to give their music away. "I'm all in favour of sticking it to the man, but you
have to remember that Prince and Radiohead have had the benefit of years of record
company investment and they wouldn't be where they are without it," she said.
A spokesman for Radiohead said one motivation behind the new model was to get the
album out to fans more quickly than the usual three- to six-month lead time required
by record labels.
Diehard fans are also being offered the opportunity to spend £40 on a physical
"discbox" version of the album.
After downloading In Rainbows next week, in December these fans will be sent a
deluxe box containing the album on CD and two vinyl records, as well as a second
CD containing more new songs, digital photographs, artwork and a hardback book.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the obsessive nature of the fanbase, on the first day on
sale it appeared more people had shelled out for the box set than had ordered the
variably priced download.
Since parting company with their record label EMI and insisting that in future they
would only sign one-off deals, a string of rumours has surrounded the release of the
latest Radiohead album.
One website counting down to the new album was dismissed as a hoax, while the
band's management were also forced to deny rumours that they were due to follow
Paul McCartney's lead and sign a deal with Starbucks.
It was only recently that Radiohead's back catalogue, including The Bends and the
much-lauded OK Computer, were made available digitally thanks to a deal between
EMI and the download service 7Digital.
The band had resolutely refused to make their music available to the market leader,
iTunes, because the Apple service insists on selling individual tracks and Radiohead
wanted to sell their albums as complete works.
Announcing a 21-night residency at the 02 in London, which sold out with ease,
Prince promised to give away a copy of his new album, 3121, with every gig ticket.
He later went further still by agreeing a deal to give the album away with the Mail on
Sunday. Record shops were furious but HMV agreed to sell the newspaper in its
stores. Prince calculated that the boost in profile and ticket sales was greater than any
return he would make releasing the album conventionally.
The Britpop survivors announced in June that their sixth album, Twilight of the
Innocents, would be their last. In future they will concentrate on recording single
tracks and releasing them on the internet. Frontman Tim Wheeler said it would herald
a new era of "spontaneity and creativity" rather than forcing fans to wait years
Dropped by their record label despite the relative popularity of their first album and a
top 40 hit with Lottery Winners on Acid, Welsh band the Crimea decided to finance
and release their second album themselves and give it away for nothing online. A total
of 61,920 people have downloaded the entire album since April and the band say they
have seen a "significant" increase in gig attendances and merchandise sales as a result.
Another band with a large and loyal live following but dwindling record sales, the
Charlatans plan to make their next single, You Cross My Path, available as a free
download through the website of radio station Xfm. Manager Alan McGee, former
Creation Records chief, said future singles and the band's next album would follow