One of the record industry’s most daring experiments ended on Monday, three months after Radiohead stunned the music industry in October by giving fans the option of paying whatever they wanted for the group’s latest album, In Rainbows.
The group was widely praised for potentially laying the groundwork for a new business model that might one day save the record industry. But as the band prepares to begin selling CDs the old-fashioned way, not everybody is cheering.
Nicky Wire, a member of the Manic Street Preachers, whose hits include “Send Away The Tigers,” told a news publication last week that Radiohead’s offer “demeans music.”
“Fair play to Radiohead for doing something different,” Wire told the United Kingdom’s Daily Star. “It’s certainly great publicity, but I think it kind of demeans music. Music used to be a market; now it’s all gone digital. It’s worrying (that) cinema is doing well, video games are doing well, but music isn’t. The free-download phenomenon is ruining the industry.”
I know such statements are heresy to the “free” culture, but Wire may be right to question whether Radiohead’s experiment was a success.
Radiohead has declined to reveal how much it earned from the promotion. ComScore, a traffic-tracking company, stirred controversy last month when it estimated that the proceeds were lackluster. About 62 percent of those who downloaded In Rainbows did so without paying a dime, ComScore reported.
The band called ComScore’s figures, which were derived from a sample group, “wholly inaccurate.”
The obvious question now is, why would Radiohead kill the promotion and go back to a traditional sales model, if the cash were rolling in?
After all, music industry executives say the economic life span of an album can last as long as two years. It starts when an act releases a record and is extended when the performer goes on a concert tour.
“For those of you who wish to buy In Rainbows in the usual way,” said a message on Radiohead’s site on Tuesday, “it will be available on CD/vinyl and download from traditional outlets from the 31st December 2007.”