A few weeks back Radiohead, a fairly well-known rock band from England, released their new album via the web and in a fairly radical move, allowed people to pay whatever price they wanted for the privilege. Anything from £0.00 to £100, they said (I wonder what the top amount paid was…).
Since then… apart from a couple of press releases full of ill-thought out stats… nothing.
What happened? Where is all the noise? Where are the “told-you-so” bleatings? What happened to the “revolutionise-the-music-industry”? It’s a disappointing damp squib if you ask me.
On one side, Radiohead remain silent on the matter. Or as good as.
On the other side the press was quick to report that a large number of people grabbed the album for free. They threw stats out like sweeties; one-third of people who downloaded the album paid nothing, average price paid was £3, and so on.
What does this prove? What does this say? Everything and nothing of course, and part of me hopes that was exactly what Radiohead intended.
Offer something for free and people will take it. Offer something with only guilt as a payment mechanism and many people easily push any emotional feeling to one side and plunge onwards. Offer something which can be free, and people will take it for free. This is the society we live in, writ large and then swept under the carpet.
Reaction to all of this freeloading seems out of place, there was SO much hype, in many different quarters, about this that it seems almost out of proportion.
Other artists (most notably Prince) have given away their music for free, realising that they make the bulk of their money outside of CD sales, but part of me hopes (desperately) that the music-loving fan, when given the ability to set a price, would do the right thing and pay up. A glint of humanity and integrity is all I’m looking for…
What I really don’t understand is where is the backlash? There is no screaming rhetoric to be found anywhere, either bemoaning the freeloaders or angry that this experiment failed to show the music industry that it was a viable solution.
But I guess that is a good thing because this experiment could do no such thing. It couldn’t PROVE either, the freeloaders (statistically) grabbed the music in about the same percentage as they do for music released via a record label.
The music industry didn’t take much of a kicking either as Radiohead will also release the album through a record label and hey, guess what, not EVERYONE is comfortable downloading music. The majority of the music listening public like CDs, or at the very least something tangible.
Reading between various lines, I think the only thing this experiment could ever prove was whether an artist would make more money PER SALE if they distributed things themselves, or via a record label. On that front I think Radiohead, on a per sale basis, doubled their money? I’m not sure as getting accurate figures is proved difficult but they certainly didn’t lose any money.
The deafening silence that blankets this entire episode worries me more than any of the financial/industry aspects.
Are we really so quick to put such things aside? Wasn’t this supposed to herald a new wave of thinking in the music industry, or is that where the silence comes from? A million record industry executives trying to figure out how to ‘fix things’.
This kind of thing isn’t a viable business model for a semi-successful band, one who flirts just below the limelight, and whilst it may boost the standings of newcomers (mySpace in particular) at a certain point it will start to hinder them.
I’m bemused and a little disillusioned. I had hoped this would’ve kicked started… ohh I dunno… something, anything… but nothing seems to have come of this. So I’ve gone back to my usual method of purchasing music and will continue to do so with knowledge of a better way gnawing at my wallet.