Finally, a big name band has made good on the premise of selling their music directly to fans. Out-of-label contract band Radiohead has put up their seventh and latest album “In Rainbows” for pre-order sales exclusively on their website with a release date of 10 October for the digital download and a 3 Dec shipping date for their Discbox. And what is most amazing about it is the fact that fans can name their own price for the digital album (plus 45 pence credit card handling charges)
After their recent decision to unload their back catalogue digitally via 7Digital and Amazon instead of iTunes whetted appetites, and with the radioheadlp7.com hoax last week purportedly announcing the new Radiohead album release details drove expectations to a frenzy, Music2dot0 can verify that this new announcement is totally genuine having been announced by Jonny Greenwood on RadioheadÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s own Dead Air Space website.
With Trent Reznor also recently announcing that once Nine Inch Nails fulfill their Universal commitments, they will be selling their albums direct to fans from their websites, this signifies a sea-change in distribution methods by A-list artists. Of course this is not an option for every band, but if all the superstar-bands that actually benefited from the old system to get to where they are, are now subsequently deciding to go totally Ã¢â‚¬Å“indieÃ¢â‚¬Â where are the major labels going to find the mega-revenues that used to subsidize the rest of the money-losing acts in their stable?
As Thom Yorke himself wryly observed in an interview with New York Times in July last year.
“I’m not really into the idea of picking an enormous fight now because I think the structure of the music business is in a state of collapse anyway. You might as well just let it get on with it. There’s no point in us trying to help. And it makes you sound really arrogant, like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to mess up the system.’ The system’s built us, so that would be a bit silly, wouldn’t it?”
In this Web2.0 age, there are already numerous bands that sell direct to fans but for a band of this global stature to totally shun the major labels and established distribution networks to sell direct to fans exclusively is certainly significant in shaking the established order of things, and will certainly cause major label executives to shudder. Boing Boing has been even more effusive in their appraisal of this development
“This is major, and it’s such a slap in the record industry’s face. An unsigned superband, treating loyal fans and customers like loyal fans and customers instead of thieves — what a revolutionary concept.”
As a concept, RadioheadÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s move is to be admired as they adopt the shareware donation ethos of allowing fans to name their price Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a radical move that they emphasize on their website with an incredible Ã¢â‚¬Å“No, Really It’s Up To YouÃ¢â‚¬Â statement.
And to prove that they are not diving blindly into the digital void at the risk of alienating their less digitized fans, there is the option to buy the album as a Discbox for Ã‚Â£40 ($82). which contains not just the In Rainbows CD but also 2×12 inch heavyweight vinyl records and a bonus CD. As Thom Yorke emphasised in the same NYT interview
“The truth is that the traditional medium is still there, and you need it”
And in recognition of their global appeal, there are no silly rules restricting purchases to only the US and UK - so bring in the yen, peso, ruble, rupee and reminbi by the cartful. Since the Discbox will only ship on 3 Dec, it can be expected that most will buy the digital download for instant gratification come 10 Oct, and then also probably buy the Discbox set for the bonus CD with additional music, digital photographs and artwork plus lyric booklets which are all encased in a hardback book and slipcase.
Though details of the download format have not been revealed, we assume that having gone this far down the road, it will be in a non-DRM format. It all adds up to a brilliant move to maximize returns via both old and new economy practices.
Where Radiohead might stumble a little in this exercise is in the actual steps to purchase, where their transaction manager Waste Products Ltd could learn a thing or two from iTunes and Amazon on ease of purchase. The slow speed of the buying process, the empty shopping basket even after choosing the desired items, the infuriating attempts at getting the security code right which was also confirmed by Coolfer are all areas that can be improved in due course. But for the die-hard fans currently inundating the site as we speak, such hurdles are insignificant in their exuberance to directly touch the veil of their rock-gods in anticipation of the sweet music that will be unveiled in 10 days time.
‘In Rainbows’ track listing:
And since everything comes to those who will wait, the second CD from the Discbox features a further eight new songs:
Update: 5 Oct 2007
Radiohead is intending to sign a record deal to release ‘In Rainbows’ after all, to complement their innovative web distribution model as confirmed by their managers Chris Hutton and Brice Edge on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on 4 Oct,
“Yes, absolutely. We’ve got about seven days to sort it out. We tend to fly by the seat of our pants. The band think they [are] incredibly proud of this record and feel that it deserves to be brought into the mass marketplace. That’s why we need a record company who have that infrastructure to deliver the CD.”
Despite the preponderance of the internet, a good CD distribution network is still needed to reach fans who do not have access to or are averse to the digital medium. So in the Darwinian scheme of things, we have to be thankful that at least progress has been made with Radiohead’s recent exercise but an overnight radical change in habits might be too much to expect.
Speculation is rife as to how the record deal and distribution will roll out especially in view of Radiohead’s earlier distribution announcements. Music2dot0 has found out that the pitch is happening this weekend with the following as the main contenders:
1) ATO or Side One Recordings - Billboard and Hits considers them a front runner for the deal, with the common thread of Coran Capshaw owner of Red Light Management who also co-owns both ATO and Side One Recordings.
2) EMI - and after 6 albums with Radiohead, of course they would try to be in the running for at least distribution outside of the US, though one wonders how much of a negative contributory factor they were in pushing Radiohead to strike out on their own.
3) Warner - has been faithfully flogging the dead horse trying to get Radiohead on their books since the latter’s early EMI days, so they would seem to be simply making up the numbers on this pitch
4) XL Recordings/ Beggars - Music2dot0 can confirm that they are not only in the running despite not having been mentioned anywhere else, but Music2dot0 also feels that this is the darkhorse that could win it - not just due to their pro-artist philosophy but also the fact that this is the home of Thom YorkeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Eraser solo album.
If Radiohead was looking to further their innnovative approach, they would be well off considering the two independents, but if they were simply looking for a brute force functional distribution deal devoid of creative ideas - ideas which Radiohead have already shown great aptitude for - the two majors would certainly be suited for it.
One also wonders whether this record deal pitch exercise is just a necessary evil that Radiohead is forced to live with, as after all, Thom Yorke was saying just before recording ‘In Rainbows’,
“I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say Ã¢â‚¬ËœF___ youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ to this decaying business model.”
For now, it seems the pleasure is not Radiohead’s….