3 Comments

Summary:

Radiohead’s last album, In Rainbows, was a little misunderstood in so far as, following its initial online-only release on a pay-what-you-li…

Thom Yorke of Radiohead
photo: Angela N

Radiohead’s last album, In Rainbows, was a little misunderstood in so far as, following its initial online-only release on a pay-what-you-like basis, the band had virtually always intended to ship it on CD as well. Indeed, the CD ended up topping album charts.

Now the band has announced a follow-up, The King Of Limbs, whose release plan is similarly mixed, albeit in different ways. Here are the pricepoints…

– MP3 (320Kbps): £6/$9
— WAV (uncompressed): £9/$14
— Two vinyls, one CD, MP3 downloads, copious artwork: £30/$48
— Two vinyls, one CD, WAV downloads, copious artwork: £33/$53

Already, folk are once again rather excitedly asking: “Will Radiohead save the music industry?” Hold on there, boy! King Of Limbs‘ release is more conservative than In Rainbows‘ initial digital tactic, and employs valuation assumptions that are, by now, quite accepted…

1. Digital music can be sold cheap when you have no label overheads and aren’t motivated by profit.

2. Fidelity counts: people may pay more for higher bitrate.

3. The likely physical buyers are the superfans, who will happily pay a premium for extra, tactile ways to experience the work.

The Register is wrong when it says: “In effect, Radiohead are once again hoping to get fans to pay for their music twice.” It’s about choice – consumers like to get their music in familiar but various ways, the band’s Ed O’Brien said last year, explaining that the band had abandoned the idea of a digital-only release in order to be heard more widely: “You have to make your music available in lots of different ways.”

The real story behind all this is that Radiohead are by no means alone in managing online distribution independently and in enlisting small indie labels’ help for physical release. As the troubled majors downsize, it’s likely this mix will gain popularity amongst established out-of-contract artists.

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  1. Jeff @ Dead Tree Media Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    You can always tell someone that doesn’t bother with vinyl when they say things like, “In effect, Radiohead are once again hoping to get fans to pay for their music twice.”

    I’m one of those fans and I’m paying for the digital download so I can have the damn thing right now and have it on my iPod whenever I feel like listening to it on the go. Then, when that fantastic sounding box set with the old school LPs shows up in my mailbox, I will play that sucker on my record player all night long in a fidelity that they haven’t discovered in digital form.

    I think the thing that baffles the guy from the Register is that not only will people do it, but they will do it a lot…

  2. Ideas are free… it’s the souvenirs that we pay for, right?

  3. While I applaud Radiohead on continuing to forge ahead with digital distribution and provide true value and differentiation to its physical media offerings, I do not think that $14US for a WAV album is any sort of bargain.

    This price point is actually above that of many physical CDs, which may be ripped into a lossless format with physical backup to boot.

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