If you feel the earth shaking under your feet, it may be tremors stemming from Radiohead’s surprise announcement that it is releasing its new album In Rainbows electronically, on a pay-what-you-want basis. While Radiohead isn’t the first band to do this, it certainly is the most popular. And that makes the move potentially business-changing. A few thoughts:
- Ironic, how money in the music business used to be made from album sales, while touring was treated as a cost-center– essentially, advertising for the album.
- Now, with the value of songs established by the market at $0.99 (at best), and typically free for anyone who knows where to look, that business model is dead. Many of the players haven’t yet noticed that the corpse stopped breathing and is starting to smell, but that doesn’t change the facts.
- Further, touring has become extremely profitable… bands and promoters have learned new tricks, such as special seating, special vip meet-and-greets with the artists, special package deals. Anything to extract more money from the crowd; and the crowd is willing to pay.
- Is this a death knell for record labels? What value do they add, if there is next-to-no value in distribution of a band’s music? Good riddance, really, since labels have in most all instances been vultures for lo these many years.
- What about the effect on upcoming bands? The young ‘uns used to make no money touring and give all the album sale profits to the labels. Now, they’ll make no money touring and there are no album sale profits to give away. On the other hand, they have distribution and reach into a worldwide audience which they never would have had under the old, brick and mortar and vinyl discs system. If this is a meritocracy at all, it should be a benefit for the talented, since there are fewer gatekeepers between the artist and the listener’s ears.
And by the way, Radiohead’s website for the album sports a very stylish circa-1993 cheesy web design. More irony, that something so basic can be potentially so revolutionary. No flash or web 2.0 rounded corners anywhere to be found. Apparently, design was not a factor, since hordes of fans immediately crashed the servers as word spread.
And finally, let’s not overlook the absolutely huge promotional benefit Radiohead derives by pulling this off. By being first, and thus unique and newsworthy, they have the attention of media organizations worldwide, and will likely reach an audience of millions who never would have made the effort before.
Now, it everyone would just swear off mp3’s and adopt a compression standard which doesn’t sound like crap.