Needless to say, portions of the internet are abuzz, discussing the ins, outs and possible impact of the way Radiohead have handled their recent album sales (they are allowing the buyer to set the price when downloading the MP3s, and yes, you can set the price to zero – more on that here).
Having heard on the radio that the band won’t be releasing (at least not in the short term) the sales figures, I am starting to wonder why they did it. Aside from the obvious “all the money goes to us and not a record label” reason of course. Protecting their artistic investment is fairly valid, rather than having earlier versions and whatnot floating around the internet, and it is pretty obvious that the band don’t place value on chart positions and so on.
However they must have known that releasing their album, without a record label, through their own website, would be looked on as a test case for a way forward in the industry. There seems to be the view that all record labels are evil, and the people that work for them are idiots. That is patently not true, yet they do seem to be slow to react, and let’s face it, there is hardly a lack of opinion in this area…
So, if Radiohead aren’t going to release figures then the record labels won’t find out if it was a success or, and you never know, if it failed. More importantly the same holds true for other bands.
But, on the flip side of this, the way people are dealing with this neatly focusses attention back on the consumer. By allowing you to set the price of purchase, the price of your integrity, then perhaps this is a (rather bizarre) yardstick of how humanity is fairing.
When it comes to digital content, it’s not that hard to find out where to go to be able to steal it. It’s a little like entering a new neighbourhood and learning which bars to hang out in to get the best score… umm… allegedly. However many people, myself included, argue that what we are really doing is previewing the content first, before purchasing it later on.
As an aside: TV shows are an odd one. I downloaded the entire first series of Heroes from the internet, but as I pay my license fee (and it’s shown on BBC2, yes?) then surely I’ve already paid for it?? Ditto for 24 and Smallville which I pay for with my Sky package and by being blasted with adverts. No?
Music wise, this kind of ‘preview downloading’ is akin to the days when you could stand in your local record store and ask to listen to the latest Adam Ant album. However as no-one shops in stores these days, and typically most online music stores only offer a 30sec snippet from which you can preview a track (completely useless for a lot of Pink Floyd tracks, many of which seem to just be starting around the 25sec mark), then currently this is the only way to replicate such a service.
Except it’s not, is it. Services like Pandora, and Last.fm allow you to search for, and listen to, entire tracks and albums. So why do people still download them?
Because it’s free.
It doesn’t cost anything (internet access prices aside), and you have no emotional buy in when you download music tracks from the internet. You only have your guilt to deal with and the price that you pay for that varies from person to person.
The question then becomes, how many people will suffer the guilt, and how many will “do the right thing”?