How much for free?

Tomorrow, in case you hadn’t heard, Radiohead release their new album. You can purchase it to download from their website as they don’t currently have a record deal. You can also purchase a £40 box set with additional tracks, artwork, vinyl and so on, and I believe the band are in talks with a record label with a view to releasing the album on CD sometime next year.

The big news is, of course, that the band are letting you choose how much you want to buy the tracks for.. and you CAN choose £0.00 (although you still have to pay 45p for processing the payment, bloody banks).

I’m a fan so I’ll be getting the tracks but the question is, of course, will I pay for them?

A lot of people have said they will, and a lot of people and artists in the music industry think this could be a tipping point, presuming the band make money from this of course. If it sells enough, the record labels might just take notice and might, maybe, concede that there is a slim chance they have been a little rash and that, possibly, there are other ways to treat the music fans out there. Maybe. Sort of.

Me? I won’t be paying a thing. I will log onto the Radiohead website at some point, presuming it doesn’t spend half the day on its arse, and offer to pay £0.00 for the tracks. I’ll download them and listen to them with no guilt whatsoever.

Why no guilt? Because I do this already. I download albums, without paying, and listen to them. If I really enjoy the tracks then yes, I do then go and pay for them.

But that doesn’t always happen. Why doesn’t it always happen? Because I’m lazy and it’s hard and I’ve got to jump through hoops and, even once I’ve done that, I am then restricted as to what I can do with the tracks I’ve just purchased. So, what I tend to do is purchase the tracks, or CD, and then… continue to use the tracks I download (unless they are low quality). I have CDs on my shelves which have never been opened, and I know for a fact a couple of them still have the cellophane wrapper intact.

However, Radiohead have given me a way to continue to sample music, and have made it very easy for me to pay if I like it. If I choose to purchase the Radiohead album (which I will I know, so this is a rather academic discussion but I’m trying to make a point here..) I will go back to their website, “buy” the tracks and then NOT bother downloading them again.

Which, I guess, still brings me round to the question of how MUCH I’ll offer to buy the tracks for, £1 a track? Less? More?

Considering the eyes of the music industry are watching this ‘event’ very keenly, I’m almost tempted to pay well over the odds as a weird kind of protest. I’ll be sticking two fingers up and proclaiming: “See!!! We WILL spend money if you make it easy for us and don’t kibosh the tracks with DRM nonsense, don’t you get it?!”

Nothing is free, everyone knows that (ok ok, apart from air and stuff like that, don’t be so bloody pedantic) so it ultimately comes down to a single question: How much should you pay for something that is free?


  1. James said:

    I was going to buy the super-duper box set as you also got the download version with it, but the website needed a mobile phone number to register.

    I don’t have a mobile phone, Radiohead don’t have my money.

    October 10, 2007
  2. Gordon said:

    Did you try any old number in there, probably work and I doubt they’ll use the number. I put a dummy number in for my download.

    October 10, 2007
  3. Richard said:

    I’m guessing what you’re advocating here would be some kind of way of post-paying for music – working in a similar way to shareware software. You download it for free, try it out for a while, and then decide whether you like it enough to pay for it.

    Seems like a good idea to me. It would be great if download services offered ‘radio’ quality versions of tracks for free, and also CD quality paid versions.

    October 10, 2007
  4. […] Gordon makes valid points about paying for it later if he likes it. I’ve done the same in many cases (my Sigur Rós and Aphex Twin albums are a case in point), but the days when I actively sought out free copies have long gone. Don’t have the time or inclination, and am happy making occasionally bad decisions about albums on occasion (I’ll not cite examples…). But if friends “lend” me a copy (much like we all used to swap tapes) I feel honour bound to go buy it if I like it. […]

    October 10, 2007
  5. James said:

    Oh hey, random mobile phone number worked – thanks Gordon:)

    As for how much something free costs..? I’d probably pay as much as I do for albums from iTunes, around £7.99.

    But then I like Radiohead, it’d be different if I didn’t like/know the band.

    October 10, 2007
  6. Gordon said:

    So are the band preying on fan emotions?

    Richard – if any of the record labels actually tried that I’m sure it would have a measure of success. After all, a lot of people download music based on recommendations, and as the Long Tail is the future model at play here (Hits are no longer as valid, as filters bring much more music to the fore) it surely makes sense to embrace that model.

    I really REALLY hope Radiohead publish some figures sometime early next year. It may be that the music industry is just waiting for a ‘big name’ to prove whether this approach works, or not.

    October 10, 2007
  7. James said:

    I heard that $10 is the average paid so far for the download version. But then my source is THE INTERNET!

    October 10, 2007
  8. Peter said:

    I don’t possess one single song I haven’t bought either on vinyl or CD. I wouldn’t know how to start to steal one off the internet. Nor movie nor TV programme either.

    My generation (1940s) were brought up to pay for their goods. Changed days. Without the record companies’ profits there would have been no Beatles, no Rolling Stones, no Bob Dylan. Think about that, all you copyright thieves.

    October 10, 2007
  9. hans stolte said:

    I will pay £0 and then pay £0… I want an MP3 that I need to buy, well its of to and for £0.09 I get a full track and no DRM or any other rubbish.

    October 10, 2007
  10. dl said:

    According to Tom Robinson in this article

    the artist gets a maximum of only 6 to 12 pence/track from Itunes.

    Even although the total sales may be smaller – Radiohead will probably earn more from this method of delivery – as there will be less snouts and fat cats in at the trough …..

    October 11, 2007
  11. Gordon said:

    Peter – as you rightly point out, these are changed days (the times they are a’ changin’, huh?). I too was brought up to pay for goods, but that was when there was far more involvement in the buying process than there is today. You had to really want something to go to the trouble of going to a store to buy it.

    October 11, 2007
  12. I’ve no intentions of paying for tracks recorded at such an appallingly low bitrate. I’d much rather buy the (ordinary) CD when it’s eventually released, and encode it at a bitrate high enough that I’d feel comfortable actually listening to the thing. They really missed the boat with this one.

    October 21, 2007

Comments are closed.