Radiohead lets fans pick price for new album

Sweet fancy Moses this is awesome!* BB reader Daniel says,

Radiohead has just announced the details for their new album, In Rainbows.

They're only selling it through their website (at least for now), and for the digital download version, they're letting listeners pick their own price for the album - it's literally a donation-based product.

Obviously this is sparking confusion among many, but the only help the website provides are the words "It's up to you."

Link, album's out October 10. To recap: the box set (Glorious thick 12" vinyl! and "enhanced CD") is $80, but the downloads are name-your-own-price. Some readers are reporting that you get the downloads for free anyway if you buy the box set.

No details on the download file format. Does anyone out there know? DRM-free? MP3s? What bitrate, what quality?

I just bought my copy (download, though I'll probably go back and buy the boxed set, too). I got wonky html on the purchase confirmation screen indicating some code glurbles going on at the online store -- not sure if my transaction actually took. Perhaps the shop's overloaded right now, announcement just went live.

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.

In related news, the band is dismissing a hoax website that duped fans this weekend:

The site -- -- launched on Friday with a countdown timer due to reach zero on Saturday morning. It claimed it would be making a big announcement about the band. Fans speculated the "Creep" hitmakers were planning to reveal details about their next album. But a spokesperson for the band has called the Web site a "hoax" and "nothing to do with Radiohead."
Link to SF Gate blog post.

Update: More on the band's unusual indie sales approach in these news and blog reports: Green Plastic (fansite online since 1997) Billboard, Idolatr, FQMB.

But Bob Lefsetz, as usual, sums it up best:

It's not like Radiohead's living in a different world. But they're playing by a different rule book. One that says the money flows from the music, that people have to believe in you, that you've got to treat them right.

Shit, you can barely get a ticket to a Radiohead show. The venues aren't big and the demand is incredible. They're doing it all wrong, don't they see?? Well, obviously they don't.

This is big news. This says the major labels are fucked. Untrustworthy with a worthless business model. Radiohead doesn't seem to care if the music is free. Not that they believe it will be. Because believers will give you ALL THEIR MONEY!

This is the industry's worst nightmare. Superstar band, THE superstar band, forging ahead by its own wits. Proving that others can too. And they will.



  1. I just tried to purchase the download; had problems finalizing purchase, don’t know if it worked.
    Maybe they were just mad at me for only spending a dollar…

  2. My friend John Hurd has been working up an entire online store based on the same concept – you choose a price for any of the tracks or albums (DRM-free mp3!) in their catalog and get instant notice of how much is actually going into the artist’s pocket. It is a great concept – John says the idea came about because he noticed that when he was busking (Old-time Bass) he made more on album sales if he asked for a donation than if he set a price.

    They have a dozen or so Seattle area indy artists using the site, and so far it is working great – It’s called songslide – I don’t know if BB allows urls, but if they do, it is (naturally)

  3. this is some of the best news in a long time. just preordered the discbox. and how refreshing to see a well respected band leave it up to us. talk about having some faith in their fans. well done, guys.

  4. this is some of the best news in a long time. just preordered the discbox. and how refreshing to see a well respected band leave it up to us. talk about having some faith in their fans. well done, guys.

  5. I too was having trouble with the order confirmation screen – specifically, with the captcha. “Enter these letters” it said, alongside a big black image that contained no letters. I must be a replicant.


    After re-adding the download to the cart three times I eventually got it to work.

  6. Does anyone know what format the download is in? I need to know that there’s no DRM, and for that matter, that the songs are in high-bitrate mp3 rather than wma or mpeg4-aac.

  7. New Radiohead! I was wondering when we might see a new disk from them.

    If there is no DRM, I am so ordering the diskbox. I am so stoked about this!

    Now, the only other thing I’m wondering about is whether or not they’ll tour next year…

  8. Radiohead’s one of the bands I will always pay full whack for, to get the whole package – I love Stanley Donwood’s art, too – because they are so freaking brilliant.

    I’ll be fascinated to see how this zany pricing scheme of theirs works. Seems to me that there will be a steady diminuation of revenue after the first couple of days, sharper than with a conventional release, but what do I know? I hope I’m wrong. I love their anti-corporate politics and no-frills, DIY approach.

  9. I too had trouble with the captcha – until I opened the order site in IE7. I tried it several times in Firefox, even shut off the adblocker to no avail. At least I got it done… now I just have to wait til 10 Oct.

  10. I emailed the customer support address on the site and asked what format, bitrate, etc. the downloads would be. Hopefully they’ll answer within a few days.

  11. I have to go to sleep now, but i feel like a kid who’s just heard the best bedtime story! Who am i kidding? I’m going to check this out!!!!!!!

  12. this is fantastic news indeed. especially since their last album, hail to the thief, was released with heavy copy protection, which sadly still remains a sore spot in my radiohead fandom. it seems that this is a move into the right direction from that, even if we have to wait and see what mp3s we will get, drm, quality, etc…

  13. Xeni, if you’ll pardon my immaturity, I do believe I just pooped mah pants. I, too, share your love of all things Radiohead. This news has me so giddy! If any band can blaze the trail to the anti-RIAA musical promised land, they can. I hope this turns out incredibly well for them – and, thus, for us too.

    Radiohead does not like DRM. I think it’s safe to say that we will not have to deal with any of that nonsense, here.

    You know, I decided I was going to pay the fairly standard fee of $10 for the mp3s. Then I realized that it only amounts to around 5 British pounds. Man, the exchange rate sucks. It’s a pity that the CD/vinyl set is $80. That’s a little beyond my budget, at the moment.

  14. As if it wouldn’t be freely available without their gimmick. Mocking the idea that musicians continue to have any control over the distribution of their music I guess.

  15. @Setharian, this approach seems to give the artists a mite bit more control than they would have by leaving distribution up to the labels, don’t you think? I hope it works, and I hope Radiohead rakes in loads of cash.

    More importantly though, I hope there’s a future for this model in the market at large. This is an easy (and, yes, somewhat gimmicky) route for Radiohead to take at this point in their careers, since they already have an enormous, loyal fan base. But the real question is whether a group of unknowns with great music but no backing from the industry publicity machine could reach Radiohead’s popularity based solely on home-spun marketing and online donations (aka “sales”).

    The RIAA are a bunch of thugs, but they still play a real role in laying down the “venture capital” that can turn lesser-known talents into “stars.” They used to play an essential role in music distribution as well, but of course the ‘net made short work of that.

    Once artists can pay for their own production and promotion using funds from fan loyalty alone, they’ll be able to cut out the middlemen altogether. Will getting there be easy? Of course not, but you’d better believe that it would give artists far more “control” than they currently have.

  16. A number of bands in the UK have done something similar this year.

    The Crimea (ex-Warners signed) released their whole second album for free, non-DRM MP3 download with cover art on their website back in May, prefering other revenue streams such as show tickets and merch to tide them over. I’m a big fan of them and, having been to a few shows before & after the release, I’d say it deffinately worked; attendance must’ve increased 5 times. They eventually release the album on CD for purchase a few months later.

    Ash, uncer the same management of The Crimea, then announced they’d no longer be releasing albums and sticking with single releases. No freebies though.

    And then Prince, as you probably know, gave his album away to gig attendees and tabloid readers. Again, he’ll also be selling the thing at a later date.

    So no one yet has bothered to stop selling recorded music all together…

  17. Also, I love Radiohead and all, but what sort of eye-bleeding nonsense is that web site foisting upon us, anyway? I realize that design is one of those cyclic things, but I’d really rather prefer that we not revive the mid-90’s rave flyer aesthetic on a mass-culture scale. Please, oh ye gods of hipness, not yet, not yet…

  18. 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, and now subsequently decide to go totally “indie” 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?

    For those who want a full analysis of this offering I have consolidated all the details in this analysis at

  19. But does anyone know if the tracks are free from DRM-technology, or just free from DRM?

    The download page suggests that you will be given a code to ‘unlock’ the tracks after the release date… how is the unlocking done, precisely? A custom windows-only thing? An encrypted zip? via Plays-for-Sureâ„¢ ? – bleugh.

    I’m all confused.

  20. I want this to be successful so I am paying US$20. I wonder what they’ll make and what the median price paid and what the highest a fan paid.

  21. What’s with the debit/credit charge? I paid 0.91 USD to use my visa. Is that a common thing in Britain? Because it sucks.

  22. Any Tim Burgess /Charlatans fans might be pleased to read in today’s Independent (my rag of choice) that their two new singles – and then the album – will be a free download available from Xfm’s website.

    As (manager) Alan McGee puts it: “well nobody buys CDs anyway”

    Good on yer!

  23. Woah, I would have sworn Cory wrote this one. I was a bit surprised when I scrolled (up?) and saw Xeni’s badge of approval on this one.

  24. I agree that this is a beautiful thing, but I’d like to play devil’s advocate for a second, only because I’m trying to process these new concepts. Isn’t it the initial strength of the record industry’s marketing that elevated Radiohead to the position that enables them to do this? Would “Creep” ever have ended up on MTV if they wre just an obscure Internet band? It’s clear that unless you sell 750,000 units, your band is a loss to a major label record company (and to you because you pay them back for all the money they fronted for your coke expenditures), so major labels have to do the one thing that indies cannot: exposure. And for a band like Radiohead, it has been on a global scale.

    I know, I know the long tail changes this dynamic and bands will organically become famous, but bands do benefit from the marketing muscle the labels have. Personally the trade off isn’t worth it (that is selling your soul to corporate record companies), but I just wanted to state the situation is not black and white. I don’t know if the swarm will find the next Radiohead.

  25. Yes. Radiohead owes their fame and fortune to the major record label system, and only went indie after they reaped the benefits. Good for them, but it’s hardly a viable alternative to the system. Boingboing chooses to ignore the fact, more interested in proselytizing than conveying the truth.

    Anyway, it’s so easy to freely download an RIAA album (and not so easy to freely download most indie albums, because really few people care about music groups unless the RIAA has promoted them), that essentially every single RIAA album already works on a volunteer-payment basis.

    Finally, how well does the volunteer basis work? Freeware software authors who asked for donations on their very popular products typically got around $50. The US people have an expectation of paying $15 an album and (some) people do it out of the goodness of their hearts. Whereas here in China, people with plenty of money aren’t willing to pay the legitimate CD $1.50 prices, because a bootleg is fifty cents, or free off People are selfish and aren’t going to keep paying money out of the goodness of their hearts forever.

  26. Jane Siberry has been doing this same thing for years, and her page even has a list of average price paid.

  27. Has anyone mentioned Jane Siberry? Wasn’t she the first to set a pay-your-own price structure for her online discography?

    *disclaimer – I am the world’s biggest Jane Siberry fan

    Stu Mark

  28. “I know, I know the long tail changes this dynamic and bands will organically become famous, but bands do benefit from the marketing muscle the labels have.”

    Yes! But here’s the difference. If all record companies have to offer is marketing muscle then why do they need to own and/or make so much profit off these songs themselves? Why do they need to own the masters? Short answer: they don’t. Record Labels will be replaced by smart, powerful, marketing companies whose taste in bands they represent will booster their reputation (just like what happens with record labels). Certain marketing companies will rise to the top and become “hot.” The other side of the coin is distribution companies. With a marketing company and a distribution company under their belt a band has little need for a record company. If we could only all be little flies on the walls of major record company board rooms today!

  29. @ Antonio Lopez and others:

    Radiohead might not be the best example of what you’re trying to argue, as they’ve been able to consistently hold onto and grow their devoted fan base since “Creep”/Pablo Honey came out. They’re more like Bob Dylan, or Muddy Waters, or the Stones, I think, in the sense that they could record themselves reading the phone book, and there are (a lot of) people who would buy it. I think it’s likely that artists like this would eventually emerge from the mass of musicmakers and achieve some measure of fame and riches. Whether it’s as much as was able to be amassed in the long heyday of the major record labels, that I can’t tell you.

    I think a better question here is: with the seeming impending demise of the record industry, would it be possible for a highly-packaged pop star to even partially dominate the music scene? To put a name on it, is another Britney Spears going to be possible in a few years? I’m hoping not. Not that disposable music isn’t going to continue to be produced, marketed and sold, but I do hope it’s no longer the baseline.

    Ten years ago, I remember friends would buy everything that came out on Thrill Jockey because they knew that the label wouldn’t sign something that they wouldn’t like. It’s maybe like an art gallery knowing their regular customers, and looking for artists that would sell to them. Having a coterie of similar artists and selling records on that reputation didn’t sound like a bad business model then, and it only sounds like a better idea now.

  30. “This is the industry’s worst nightmare.”

    Hmmmm … that might be Prince. Or Reznor. Selling your CD online is … what, 5 years old? Putting tracks online to remix — with prizes for the peer-elected winners — now *that* was rad.

    The “industry” was always great at marketing. Alas, they were also in the position of deciding what was “good enough” to market. They became the status quo, and their choices defended that. The more consolidation, the more drivel. But then hey, that’s History.

    And the bigger they got (sort of like Apple), the more they cozied up with The Man. (Want to sell censored tracks? No problem. Hey, c’mon to the barbecue this weekend.)

    That period is over. How sweet it is.

  31. Never before has a band released an album for £40 (approx $80 USD — tanking exchange rates = easy math), and been lauded for it!

    I’m sorry, but this just reeks of arrogance on Radiohead’s part. I commend them for standing up to the labels, but the pricey boxset is rather hypocritical.

  32. Errr…..guys? Jane Siberry has been doing this same exact thing for years now. Maybe a little “credit where credit is due” would be in order?

  33. What about Jane Siberry? Was she not the first major artist to offer a pay-what-you-choose pricing strategy for her online discography?

  34. I surely hope they release a standalone CD eventually, cuz I have no use for vinyl records, and I’d much rather prefer the uncompressed CD audio over the MP3s. I’ll give ’em $5 for the MP3s now, then buy the CD later.

    Also, if I choose to pay money for the MP3s, am I doing so in British Pounds? Should I probably expect to get charged a currency exchange fee from my credit card? Eh? Boo complications.

  35. I just put zeros in for the download version and had no problem. Am I a heel for not paying something….anything? OK, guilt slowly draining away….I’ll be alright. Don’t you go worrying about little ol anonymous!!
    Love Radiohead!!

  36. Jane Siberry’s Self-Determined Pricing

    Hello Everyone!

    I wanted you to hear about this from me first. The Sheeba store has a new pricing policy.

    Like many, I feel restless and impatient with living in a world where people are made to feel like shoplifters rather than intelligent peoples with a good sense of balance. I want to treat people the way I’d like to be treated. ‘Dumbing UP’ (as opposed to ‘dumbing down’).

    NOT donations
    NOT pay-what-you-can
    NOT guilt-trips
    NOT tests of your integrity
    ARE trans-actions

    You decide what feels right to your gut. If you download for free, perhaps you’ll buy an extra CD at an indie band’s concert. Or if you don’t go with your gut feeling, you might sleep poorly, wake up grumpy, put your shoes on backwards and fall over. Whatever. You’ll know what to do.

    FOUR choices on pop-down ‘buy’ button

    1. free (gift from Jane)
    2. self-determined (pay now)
    3. self-determined (pay later so you are truly educated in your decision)
    4. standard (today’s going rate is about .99)

    Pricing Statistics
    % Gift from Artist 19%
    % Standard 18%
    % Pay Now 5%
    % Pay Later 57%

    Avg Price/Song
    % Paid Below Suggested 6%
    % Paid At Suggested 80%
    % Paid Above Suggested 14%

  37. I have complete mixed feelings over this. The concept — paying your own price for the music — is tremendous and it has the potentional to totally bring record company dominance crashing down.

    But $80 for the actual physical product? — I don’t understand people simultaneously smirking about saying ‘goodbye’ to the CD, and happily plunking down so much cash for…the CDs (plus vinyl, I know, I know, but that still isn’t any excuse). Fans will always want the limited edition product, but I think that this move with the uber-expensive discbox says something else: some bands are ARTISTS, and others aren’t. I have serious doubts that other lesser-known bands would dare offer such an item in an all-Internet music purchasing world, or if they did, that they could get away with it.

    Do I think it’s cool? Sure. But I didn’t ever imagine that taking the piss from the record companies would so quickly be replaced by a commodity fetishism whose cost makes CDs look like a good deal to me.

    That said, according to the website Radiohead apparently are also going to release the music as a regular CD, too, for all the regular Joes and Janes out here.

  38. dig it.

    i’m surprised nobody mentioned wilco yet. all wilco does (since the yankee hotel debocle) is find ways to bite the record companies hands. they release every one of their records for free through their website before the actual artifact is out. they seem to be doing o.k…

    the thing is, in this day in age with the whole digital revolution- ipods, mp3’s, downloads of singular tracks etc…- it’s really fucking with peoples listening habits. not in a good way, either.

    the actual artifact of a disc, or 7″, or full vinyl, etc., holds so much potential! to hold the package in your hands and see the art work, read the lyrics, the overall layout, and to hear the tracks in the order in which we were intended to hear them, is such a special thing.

    i guess my point is- good for bands releasing their music via internet and getting around the major label bull (promoting jessica simpson and ignoring real talent.. pieces of hell..) but,
    NEVER STOP BUYING RECORDS. hold them and feel like a kid again.

    listen to my bands free internet e.p. here;, be our friend on myspace, and hopefully you’ll buy one of our records one day! love,
    eric bee- elephant bones.

  39. As far as the pricing for the box set, are Radiohead not Artists? If so, then the same logic that we apply to SteamPunk or Abstract Expressionism should be applied here: The fans, by voting with their feet, set the acceptable price. If you’re into Radiohead enough to buy a deluxe box set, then you’ll pay that price and think it was worth it, just as the person who plunked down just shy of 2 Million dollars for Celebration felt – that it was worth every penny.

  40. WTH? no PayPal? only plastic? bummer.


    (currently listening to: Pablo Honey)

  41. My coworker and I were just interviewed by Reuters TV about this (outside J&R in NYC). It was a kind of “man on the street” interview. I have no idea of our answers were good enough for the clip soundbite they were looking for.

  42. So let me see if I understand the economic math: If the cost to produce album and host the retail site is $500,000, and a million fans pay an average of $5 each, then Radiohead walks away with $4.5 million in pure profit. That sound right?

  43. Wow! I have been watching a site by the name of …. they offer a more sophisticated version to independent artists … customers can choose the amount they pay and see how money goes to the artist!

    Sure hope it takes off!!

  44. Who else is a little bit disappointed by the following description?


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