Since the beginning of the
digital music revolution, artists have taken the lead on innovative
ways to deliver music directly to their fans. Some, like Prince, have given away front-line product free. Others,
like Tori Amos and Alanis Morissette, have offered up Web-only
exclusives, also free.
Then there have been the
famous holdouts: Metallica, which joined the fight to shut down
Napster, and the Beatles, who, despite years of rumors to the contrary,
are still conspicuously absent from iTunes and the rest of the legal
Now comes Radiohead with potentially the most ground-breaking move of all: putting its new album, "In Rainbows," out there for fans to pay what they want.
This museum model of a "suggested donation" is entirely untested,
and the industry will be watching closely to see how the experiment
That said, it is important to keep in mind that this is a niche play
from a band that already has a huge, loyal audience, not to mention
ownership of its own masters. Whether fans pay for this album will have
little bearing on the decisions of rank-and-file artists who don’t have
Nor is this move likely to affect the labels’ digital strategies.
Even if the gambit is wildly successful, it will not change the fact
that the industry is staring down the barrel of free-falling CD sales and insufficient digital volume to make up the slack.
Still, it will be interesting to see what happens with "In
Some of Radiohead’s legions may actually pony up some serious dough, if
nothing else to reward the band for not treating its fans as if they
While most fans will probably help themselves to the album gratis, inevitably there
will be a few crackpots who will
pay obscene sums for it, maybe for the attention, or maybe just because they have money to burn and can’t help themselves.
It will take only a few of those to give Radiohead a much bigger and
more immediate payday than it would have ever gotten from Capitol, its