Radiohead to Record Labels: ‘This Is What You Get, When You Mess With Us’
Well, this is sure to set a cat among the pigeons who still believe they have a God-given right to control the retail distribution and pricing of music.
Recently freed of its contractual obligation to major label EMI Group, top-selling British rock band Radiohead is releasing its seventh studio album, “In Rainbows,” on Oct. 10 as a digital download (presumably in delicious 320kbps, DRM-free MP3 format)–and it is letting its fans decide how much, if anything, to pay for it. “It’s up to you,” a message on the preorder site for the album reads. Click through to the pricing screen and a subsequent message adds: “No really. It’s up to you.”
And it is. Fans are free to pay whatever they’d like–as little as one penny (US two cents), plus a 45 pence (US 92 cents) charge for using a credit or debit card. “I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one,” said Radiohead singer Thom Yorke. “And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say ‘F— you’ to this decaying business model.”
Question is, given a clear, legal alternative to downloading music for free, will fans choose to support its creators? Just in case they don’t, “In Rainbows” will also be sold as a “discbox,” which will feature the new album on CD and double-vinyl, as well as a second disc with seven additional songs, photos, artwork and lyrics. The materials will be packaged in a custom hardback book and slipcase and sold at a price wisely left up to the band: £40 (US $81.18).
And with that, Radiohead sidesteps the traditional music industry altogether. “This feels like yet another death knell,” an A&R executive at a major European label told Time magazine. “If the best band in the world doesn’t want a part of us, I’m not sure what’s left for this business.”