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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