Thursday, November 8, 2007

Radiohead's experiment: Success or failure?

E Online reported that two-thirds (about 62%) of the people who downloaded Radiohead's new album, In Rainbows, didn't pay a single cent for the recording. The number of people who downloaded wasn't given. On average, worldwide people paid $6.00. Some analyst at comScore, the company that did the measuring, estimated that Radiohead needed on average $1.50 per download to break even, so for the people who think the experiment was a failure are wrong. Any way you look at it Radiohead came out ahead.

They made a profit. That's one thing. Just by releasing the recording themselves they've probably made more money than they would have through a label.

And that that profit depended on people paying while other's didn't is something interesting to look at. How long will the value system of this part of Radiohead's audience maintain this level of responsibility? Will guilt and a sense of fairness rule, or will they eventually change (I almost wrote erode) to equal the rest of the audience? Like water seeking it's own level, where will the volunteered price level out to? Radiohead is on their way to finding out.

It is like a little scientific experiment, with Radiohead changing and refining the criteria to fine-tune results. If Radiohead is smart, they'll continue to along this road to see where it takes them.

And what does this all mean for artists with a smaller fan base and less money? Nothing. It means sit and wait and watch and see what breaks out of this. The only thing smaller, lesser-known artists can do right now is continue to guerrilla market. Get their songs out in front of the public any way they can, but avoid the big labels right now because they'll only try to screw you into locking into a long-term contract. Find a smaller label that fits your vision of your music.

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