Radiohead’s Music Downloads – An Experiment




Radiohead, the English rock band is striking out on their own when it comes to online sales of their newest album. When Radiohead’s contract with recording company EMI expired, they decided not to sign a deal but to sell their music through their web site.

They recently completed their seventh studio album, In Rainbows. They launched a new site this month, where you can preorder a digital download on their web site. This message greets you (no yells at you):

RADIOHEAD HAVE MADE A RECORD.
SO FAR, IT IS ONLY AVAILABLE FROM THIS WEBSITE.
YOU CAN PRE-ORDER IT IN THESE FORMATS: DISCOBOX AND DOWNLOAD.

A “discbox” is a collection with an In Rainbows CD, a bonus CD from the recording sessions, a vinyl copy of In Rainbows with bonus tracks, and a hardcover book. They are being experimental here too. If you preorder the download fans are promised that they can decide how much they want to pay for the album. I’m not quite sure what that means, a vote? How about free?

It sounds like not having a day job and deciding to be your own boss. It’s freeing at first, but you can start missing the regular paycheck. This is how they put it: “for the first time, we have no contract or release deadline to fulfill – it’s both liberating and terrifying.”

Since distribution is vital to selling records, I wonder what other plans RadioHead has for their marketing. They shunned iTunes because they didn’t want to sell a song at a time. It’s the complete album or no album.

My take – the music industry needs distribution partners who know new media. I also don’t think you can fight the trend. Fans want to download their music one a song at a time. Their on iTunes and other music download sites. Only the diehards will keep coming to you directly. I guess it’s a strategy for idealists. However, for a pre-lease strategy, I like it.

  • http://bushidoblog.com.ar Bushido

    ‘Tis the new way of music marketing. Kind of reminds me of the USB “cd” of the White Stripes:
    http://whitestripes.kungfunation.com/index.php?main_page=product_music_info&products_id=45

  • http://www.audiomecca.com/music-software/ Music Software

    Actually, this is very innovative marketing. Like all successful or failed marketing strategies, we shall all be wiser by hind sight and write case studies about the strategy, whichever way it turns out. I admire these guys. They have got guts.

  • http://www.brianchappell.com Brian Chappell

    I imagine this tactic will create some buzz. I just went and copped my download for 1.45 pounds!

  • http://www.joeswitzerland.com Jason

    If Radiohead gets 200,000 downloads (which I think is well within reach) at even $1 a pop, it will give them a good chunk of change. Definitely covers the recording costs, no doubt. Add in merchandise, sold out tours, the collector’s discbox, and not having to pay anyone (other then themselves), I think Radiohead will make out very well in the end. I think it is a brilliant strategy for them.

  • http://www.evolvor.com evolvor

    I like to think of myself as someone who understands this new media and have turned my online marketing focus towards the music indstry. Radiohead is making a smart bold move that every band should be paying attention to.

  • http://www.wikimusicguide.com my music blog

    i agree that strategy would only work for die hard Radiohead fans. What about those who only want a copy of a single track? They might want to consider that in the future, too!

  • http://www.thevanblog.com Steven Bradley

    I agree with Jason. By going it on their own they don’t need to sell as many CDs to make the same money they would going through the record company. Fans will buy the album and if it’s good I suspect others who hear it will too.

    The question is really how will others here it without knowing someone who purchases the music.

    I think they’re missing an opportunity by not selling singles tracks. People have made it clear they want to download singles.

  • http://www.u-g-h.com Owen Cutajar

    I suppose it’s RadioHead’s prerogative to want to sell the whole album rather than individual tracks. To them, the whole album may be a cohesive whole. I haven’t heard it yet, but I remember albums like Queensrÿche’s Operation Mindcrime, where the individual tracks were great, but most of them made more sense in the context of the album.

    I for one think this experimentation is a great idea and am happy to back them up on this one.

    *scurries off to see where to put his money*

  • http://www.joeswitzerland.com Jason

    I’m not sure if any of you guys are Radiohead fans, but to me (who has all of their albums), I don’t think Radiohead falls into the single track realm of most “pop” music – especially all of their albums since OK Computer. They are complete experiences to me and I think that is the way Radiohead wants to present their music.

    Anyway, for the cost of one track on iTunes, you can have the entire Radiohead album, if you choose to pay that much. So, I don’t really think the lack of single tracks is an issue.

    And as far as marketing and spreading the word goes, I think the publicity this move is getting is doing a great job for them. I can’t even count how many articles I’ve read in Google Reader (from a wide variety of sites) that have commented on the move and linked to the Radiohead sites. And that is not even counting the MSM coverage. Seth Godin would be very proud of Radiohead, IMO.

  • http://www.webconnoisseur.com/blog/ Dustin

    I’m a little surprised there’s no one has mentioned the large mistakes Radiohead has made with their site. I agree it is brilliant, but when I checked out the online execution, especially from a search standpoint, I was very disappointed. Here’s what I found:
    http://www.webconnoisseur.com/blog/uncategorized/radiohead-in-rainbow-changing-the-music-industry-but-with-poor-online-execution

  • http://www.brianchappell.com Brian Chappell

    Just downloaded the album today. 2nd best to OK computer. Flat out this album rocks!

    Might go back and pay them more, heh.

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  • http://www.MusicByDay.com THE Music Blog

    As a big Radiohead fan I think it’s great that they did this but at the same time I think it’s good that in the long term it’s the album that will be most remembered (as it is a brilliant album) and not the marketing strategy. But I do think how well it’s turned out for them is proof that trying new things in the marketing world can be a very good thing.

    THE Music Blog’s last blog post..Best Albums Of 1964 to 2008 According To RateYourMusic.com Users

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