Radiohead downloads were just a tactic to boost CD sales?

Discuss

92 Responses to “Radiohead downloads were just a tactic to boost CD sales?”

  1. W. James Au says:

    Hang on, that blog links to a Financial Times article dated 10/11, which quotes a Music Week interview with Edge from 10/8, *before* the album was online:

    http://www.musicweek.com/story.asp?storycode=1031810

    So maybe they intended this as a CD promotion before it went online, but then, Edge had no way of knowing how truly huge the download sales would be when he said that. Perhaps they assumed they’d get a few hundred thousand bucks at most, in which case it made sense at the time to position this as a promotion. I have to think they’re re-assessing those assumptions now that they’ve cleared somewhere close to $10 million.

    And in the end, it really doesn’t matter: if not in intent, certainly in effect it *was* groundbreaking.

  2. erindipity says:

    Where is Thom?

  3. pepsi_max2k says:

    Well… I don’t know about the “want to buy the CD” statement, but on the whole every single thing the band does, given it’s the full time work of the band members and co., is to make money. This should be pretty obvious, no? The fact that some things they do are free and others aren’t shouldn’t be the concern.

    The album was given away as money would be better made elsewhere, something many bands have actually done (smashing pumpkins, crimea, ash, prince, radiohead…). Profit from gigs, merch, other cds, payed downloads, press deals etc should all increase, and given that many people would have downloaded an album for free anyway they won’t lose much from that.

    So like I say the only strange thing is that someone said the ONLY reason was to make money PURELY off future CD sales or the same album, as that’s probably the one thing that will see decreased sales after the giveaway.

    Nothing to do with bitrates, drm, slaps in the face or being nice. Just a business plan.

  4. mike_the_kid says:

    Downloading it from the torrent is copyright infringement. I think the band’s request that you download it from their site or not at all is very reasonable, and should be honored.

    I downloaded the album from their website. I listened to it once. Not sure it was my cup of tea really, but I was impressed.

    I didn’t pay them anything, and I probably won’t. But I’ll probably end up giving them $5 if I listen to it more than 5 times.

    The quality of the tracks and everything seem fine. I’m not an audiophile, but I have good headphones.

  5. theminx says:

    Thank you Delaney. Save me a spot on the rail.

    Phil J. Leitch, I think you may need to improve your reading comprehension, because if you had read the information right there in front of you on the Radiohead order site, you, too, would have had the extra-special knowledge that these were the only releases “at this time,” and I guess I was just plumb crazy optimistic to extrapolate that to mean that there would be other releases in the future.

    I didn’t gain this knowledge on my special Radiohead message board, but 80% of the users on my special Radiohead message board (insert sarcasm smiley here please) were also, miraculously, able to comprehend this from the information available on the Radiohead website order page (or, possibly, the page before it–as I said, I didn’t make screenshots).

    Then there was the 20% who were so overjoyed that they didn’t read too closely, and needed reassurance. Add another sarcasm smiley here please.

    For crying out loud. I’m no big Jon Bon Jovi fan, but if people were slagging off his motives this way, I would be defending him, too. Nickelback, on the other hand…

  6. oboreruhito says:

    Can anyone point me to a statement made by the band or its management that this whole event was nothing more than a way to get the album to the fans early while giving them a chance to put money in the tip jar – all the while collecting a nominal amount of data (how many people are interested, what is it worth to them) that would’ve been impossible in the inevitable pirated advance of the album?

    Did nobody read Johnny Greenwood’s interview with Rolling Stone from _nine days ago_? (http://www.rollingstone.com/rockdaily/index.php/2007/10/10/radioheads-jonny-greenwood-on-in-rainbows-its-fun-to-make-people-think-about-what-music-is-worth/)

    Nobody in Radiohead said this was a statement about record labels – they explicitly said, almost from the beginning, that this was going to eventually be a traditional album release.

    This was just an acknowledgement of two things – things the band has learned on every album release since Kid A:

    1. If they don’t release the album online themselves, pirates will happily do it for them.

    2. If they don’t give fans a way to abate their guilt for downloading a pirated advance, it’s a missed opportunity to connect to them.

    Everybody who paid Radiohead money to make a statement to record labels wasn’t paying attention to anything but the astonishingly weak and sensationalized, knee-jerk blog responses.

    Fans who’ve been waiting for In Rainbows knew, or at least suspected, what was going on from the beginning. It’s just Radiohead – free from archaic, paranoid label restrictions – learning and acting on the lessons learned from the broken street dates of almost every major label release in the last 5 years, at least.

    And hey, it does make a great publicity stunt (and apparently a few million dollars) when you let a vaccum of information fill up with everyone’s wildest dreams and fantasies. Everyone bit.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The only problem here is whether not it was made clear that the downloads were 160kbps. If so, fine; the choice is yours. If not, then they are essentially asking anyone with ears that work to pay for the same thing twice.

    I’m no super-serious audio nut; 320 or 256 is nice, but for most recordings 192 is perfectly listenable – missing the “depth” of a 320, but not problematic. 160, however, is a *big* step down in quality; OK for an audition, but not OK if you’ve been led to believe that you are “buying the album”.

  8. MrSquirrel says:

    Maybe I’m missing Xeni’s points because I didn’t hear about it before it was actually available. By the time I saw the hype about the “name your price”, the download could already be had.

    I thought it was a gutsy move on their part, putting the music out there for free, easily and legally accessible.

    This sent a couple of important messages, no matter what ulterior CD sales motive they might have had.

    It said to the world, Hey look: If you want our newest music for free, for whatever reason that you refuse to pay for the music… We still don’t think you’re criminals. Here’s our music. Take it. For free. No RIAA involved. Enjoy.

    It said, We don’t think you’re pirates. Pirates are those guys with the eye patches and parrots on their shoulders, that attack people with swords on the high seas, and steal their stuff. You, on the other hand, are probably just a music lover who is mad at the conventional ripoff distribution and pricing structure. So, here’s something very different. Pay us what you want to. A system based on honor, rather than disrespect for our own fans.

    I think it also, intended or not, sends a message that implies the uselessness of DRM. It says, Hey: screw DRM, here’s the music instead. No charge. Throw a few bucks in the jar if you’d like.

    And even if it’s only 160 bit-rate, I would be awfully surprised if the CDs contain DRM to protect the higher quality versions. What would be the point? 95% or more of all potential “pirates” of this music will be more than happy with 160.

    160 variable bit-rate sounds very clean and good for all but the most acoustically demanding musical passages. For most music, moving up to 192 will yield only the most subtle improvement. 256 is for audiophiles with expensive equipment, who hunch close to their speakers with a faraway gaze, listening for imperfections.

    In the early days of Napster sharing, when most of the sharers were still on dial-up, 128 was by far the prevailing bit-rate. It was just too slow to go after 192′s for everything. 128 sounds ok for most music, but 160 was a great compromise, because it does sound noticeably better than 128, in almost any case.

    Yes, I know some “pirates” will still torrent the high-quality versions. But I think Radiohead’s move recognizes all of this as a fact of life, instead of trying to DRM us all into submission.

    Sure, this wouldn’t work for lesser known acts. But what if it sets a precedent for other big acts? If other big names follow suit, that would deliver a blow to the DRM-crazy major labels. It has the potential to pull the rug out from under their very premise for the “need” for DRM.

    So count me among those who are surprised that BB wouldn’t be embracing this move wholeheartedly. It seems counterproductive to their stated cause, to rebuke Radiohead for not going far enough. I think it’s clear they took more than a baby step forward into the unknown, and in doing so, they have redeemed and justified some of the very same basic principles of free access that BB has expounded for so long. I think this is true despite any perceived ulterior motives.

  9. Doomstalk says:

    You won’t hear any complaints from me. Regardless of whether or not it was done in earnest, Radiohead’s tactic did a lot to prove the viability of DRM-free music, and that you can be extremely successful selling music online. All-in-all, it did a great deal of good. Of course, it also helps that the album is fantastic.

  10. Bevatron Repairman says:

    J’Accuse!

    They wanted to actually sell CDs, too? Isn’t Doctorow’s whole thing that by giving the books away, people will want to own them? I really dig (most) of what BoingBoing is all about, but if this is supposed to be a bad thing, I give up on this whole new copyright stuff. I’ll go drink the RIAA Kool-Aid instead.

  11. Jewels Vern says:

    It sounds like a good plan to me.

  12. Jack says:

    I don’t understand the issue. 160kbps is a perfect bit rate for something that is free. Most people won’t notice the difference between it and higher quality encodes. And the people who will care will buy the CD anyway.

    It’s pretty clear this is all a great promotional stunt. Since it hypes the band and allows them to reach out to non-fans.

    Look at the cost of an average promotional campaign. From print ads, to posters to mailing white-label promo CDs to reviewers. That all costs tons of cash.

    In this case, the band takes a bold/viral-marketing move that doesn’t cost them nearly as much. Just give it away to the fans for the cost of download, give them an option to pay what they wish and even give them a physical option. A very win-win-win scenario for all involved.

  13. nemo says:

    It’s as if some people won’t be happy until bands give away all their work for free in flac.

    Radiohead made a great offer, I made use of it. I happen to have a policy of listening to music encoded at a minimum of 192kbps but after having listened to their album I found it perfectly acceptable.

    ‘m nt sr why ths pst s hr xcpt t b snstnl.

  14. z7q2 says:

    I do think this is a one-time stunt for Radiohead. They will learn from it like they learn from all their past experience, and build on it.

    So, next time, they will have an HTML 3.2 page with direct links to individual mp3 files that can be downloaded immediately. At the bottom of the page will be a PayPal link with the text ‘pay for this if you like it’

    And they will make twice as much money as this time.

  15. Ape Lad says:

    It’s a profit deal! Takes the pressure off. (To borrow a page from Navin Johnson)

  16. oboreruhito says:

    Cute, Xeni, but the real product they’re promoting isn’t the limited-edition boxed set. It never was. It’s still the $12-$24 CD, and $9-$18 digital album, the band’s trying to release in January. Go back and read the NYT article again; to paraphrase David Cross, you know why I think that? That’s what their management fucking said!

    Bonus tracks aren’t an album. They aren’t part of the album. It’s extra material, just like the LP jackets you aren’t getting with the free download, or the CD art you aren’t getting with the free download, or the box itself you aren’t getting with the free download. They probably won’t come with the CD, either.

    They haven’t sold a boxed set before – the Singles set was a redemption promotion – but since they consented to selling music online, they’ve been liberal about EPs. I’d be surprised if the boxed-set tracks you want will show up online soon after it ships in less than two months, and you can throw your money at them then.

    Until then, sure, remain optimisitc. But stop spitting on a gift because it wasn’t good enough.

  17. Mold Prince says:

    Wow…this has got the BB comment boards poppin’!

    First, @ Xeni, I think it’s unfair to label the digital release as “incomplete”. In Rainbows is a ten-song album. I think the rest of the songs in the discbox should be looked at as a supplement, b-sides if you will, and not a longer, “complete” version of the album itself. If the physical cd comes out (in non-discbox) form with more than ten songs on it, then I will stand corrected.

    Secondly, 160 kbs is fine for me, a non-discerning audiophile. However, I’ve started to warm to the complaints of people that say it’s too low (not to say I think Radiohead dropped the ball on this release). Seems like a simple solution is to torrent the flac files when the cd is made available. With this pay as you want model, it seems like it would be hard for the band to hold a grudge against fans who acquired higher quality files without re-paying first…

    I paid my six bucks, and while 160kbps is fine for me, I don’t think I’d feel any guilt should I up my bit-rate via non-official channels. Same goes for the content on the discbox. If my two choices to hear that music are to pay 80 dollars or zero dollars, I know which one I’ll choose, and I don’t think I’d be drawing the ire of the band for doing so…

    Love the site. Thanks for being awesome.

  18. Xeni Jardin says:

    @oboreruhito,

    But stop spitting on a gift because it wasn’t good enough.

    Oh, for heaven’s sake, leaving aside the silly “spitting” hyperbole — here’s the important point.

    It’s not a “gift” if you pay for it.

    And plenty of music fans/consumers aren’t expecting “gifts,” they’d be absolutely happy to pay a reasonable price for digitally-delivered music that is of no lesser quality than “real” CDs.

    The positive lesson from this experiment, whether it was just for CD marketing purposes or not, is that we now have further proof that this is true.

  19. liquis says:

    i’d be interested to know what the average is of people who actually paid *something* and leave out the people who paid zero…. it might also influence them in the future to require you to pay., even if it’s 10 cents. most people will be generous once they have their credit card entered etc. i think a lot of people are too lazy to get to that point before paying.

  20. phasor3000 says:

    Anyone who complains about this scheme is saying more about themselves and their expectations than about Radiohead. What a brilliant cross between a marketing plan and a psychology experiment.

  21. Matt Sanderson says:

    I don’t see how this is a bad thing. I think it’s an excellent way of getting music out there. I know that I wouldn’t know half of the bands I listen to now, if I hadn’t first downloaded them. The labels would do well to listen, regardless of their motivation.

  22. Anonymous says:

    160 CBR (constant bitrate) is bare minimum audio quality. 160 VBR is ok.
    A V0 bitrate ripped with LAME is quite popular.
    Check this chart out
    http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org/images/2/2c/Lame-chart-2.png

  23. Anonymous says:

    It’s quite possible he’s simply using “CD” as a synonym for “album”. I’m sure they planned to release a CD all along. The only bit I don’t understand is why they didn’t embrace torrents. Torrents would have allowed them to offer multiple formats in various qualities without having to incur much in the way of bandwidth costs. Perhaps the thinking is that funneling users through the site makes it more likely someone will enter something other than 0.00, but I’m not sure that plays a big part in the decision. I image the biggest deterrent to getting listeners to pay was probably the website that just couldn’t handle the traffic and the requirement for users to create an account instead of just using paypal or some paypal-like system (though that part’s more understandable, as those services charge steep fees).

  24. Mold Prince says:

    @ Liquis, I might be wrong (heh), but I think they did require everyone to pay. If I’m not mistaken, everyone had to pay like a dollar processing fee, and I think you had to have a credit card.

    Although…I didn’t try to pay nothing, so I’m not quite sure…

  25. Crash says:

    Isn’t this similar to how Cory says he gives away electronic copies of his books for free because it makes people buy the paper ones?

  26. Xeni Jardin says:

    If Cory offered copies of his books for *sale* online in electronic form with missing pages and print you couldn’t enjoy as fully, and we learned about the lower-than-optimal quality and incomplete content after we’d paid for it, and we learned a few weeks later that he’d only done so for the purpose of selling dead-tree copies, then maybe, I guess.

    But no, Cory doesn’t do that. He doesn’t condescend to his audience. So I don’t think the two are analogous.

    Radiohead has the right to do whatever they want with the art they create, and if they want to give away or sell low-quality MP3s to entice people to buy CDs, again, it’s not a crime.

    But it’s not very forward-thinking, given how many of us see digital downloads of music as a primary means of purchase and enjoyment.

    Jim Griffin on the pho list likes to talk about “Tarzan Economics,” meaning that folks in the record biz often try to hang on to an old business model while tentatively grasping at others, trying to swing through the jungle.

    If you really want to progress, at one point or another you just have to let go of the old, familiar vine, and fly forward.

  27. brundlefly says:

    Count me as wondering what the problem is. Of course it was an act of promotion.

  28. oboreruhito says:

    Hyperbole? Hey, you’re the one who mentioned Bob Lefsetz’s “great” post, whose hyperbole goes so far over the top that I can’t tell when he’s being serious and when he’s being snarky. (“Oops, they drive foreign cars, which are often NOISIER!” WTF?)

    It’s not a “gift” if you pay for it.

    Then don’t pay. You had that option. It was a gift – that’s what you don’t seem to be getting – and Radiohead let you thank them with money if you wanted. They didn’t expect you to pay anything; the blank was empty by default, the site was insistent that you pay what you thought was fair – even if it’s nothing.

    If you didn’t want to pay, you didn’t have to break the law or violate your conscience. The process was even less intrusive than a tip jar – everything was set up for you to pay nothing, enter nothing, and register nothing if that’s what you wanted to do. All they wanted was for you to get it directly from them.

    And plenty of music fans/consumers aren’t expecting “gifts,” they’d be absolutely happy to pay a reasonable price for digitally-delivered music that is of no lesser quality than “real” CDs.

    Then buy the full-quality download when it comes out. If the bonus disc is never released digitally, I’ll be on your side about that, but then I’ll probably be more upset that Radiohead would be too stupid to make money off their own music.

    I’m glad, at least, that we can both agree about what everybody learns from the experiment.

  29. voracity says:

    Let’s see if we can clear some things up here. I assume what Xeni meant is that, at first, it looked as though Radiohead was trying out a new business model for selling its music — something other bands might be able to emulate, something that might end up producing a truly historic shift in the way we buy our music.

    Instead, it looks as though they did it just to promote this specific CD. They probably won’t do it again next time and they’re probably not fussed if it has no effect on the way music is sold.

  30. cory says:

    What the heck is wrong with promoting oneself, anyway? The alternative is, I dunno, giving to charity or helping the homeless or something. For all I know the members of Radiohead do lots of that too, but in the context of being a band, it’s pretty reasonable to try to sell your stuff.

    The clue that they were selling stuff was that they were asking for some money for the download. Not demanding it, mind you, but asking for it.

    Which, right there, is pretty groundbreaking. :-)

  31. So-Called Austin Mayor says:

    The downloads “were just a ‘tactic’ to boost CD sales” in the exact same way as a band’s tours, tee-shirts, posters, music videos, web sites and interviews with music magazines.

    I fail to see the scandal in any of it.

    – SCAM

  32. mechno says:

    I’ll echo that the post was very accusatory.
    I am not a Radiohead fan so I haven’t checked the recording quality of their tracks, but a properly encoded 160k can sound pretty darn good!

    Has anyone heard of the They Might Be Giants tactic where they allow a free sensory download (a listen) via the dial-a-song number? They ought to be drawn and quartered!

  33. erindipity says:

    They made the best decision at the absolute best time, we can hardly fault them for making money while breaking ground. I applaud them all the more for being so fucking astute. Score!

  34. MaximusNYC says:

    It’s bizarre to hear people act like they’ve been somehow cheated by Radiohead.

  35. V(irtual)D(espot) says:

    Distinguishing between 160 Kbps and FLAC is the 7th sense.

  36. MOONBAT says:

    Oh, noes! You mean they’re not Socialists??!

  37. blip says:

    If Radiohead were purely interested in making money then their albums would be on iTunes. 128 kbps and a dollar per track = bucketloads of cash

  38. garrett says:

    oboreruhito nailed it. Anyone feeling cheated for paying whatever they want (a minimum of 45p) for an album is really asking to be mocked.

    They circumvented piracy, opened up their music, made a tidy sum and likely drew in many more curious listeners who hadn’t bought a radiohead album before but were hooked in my the method of distribution.

    Yes, they’re still going to release it as an album, and a box set and whatever else. It’s a multi-platform release and it gives their audience alot more options. The casual fan can get the download, the committed can grab the cd and the rabid can get the box set. That’s a hell of alot more choice than most artists give you.

    But they’ve also shown up the leaks and put out the tracks as they wanted them presented. Bravo to them.

  39. theminx says:

    WOW WOW WOW.

    The 10 songs out of 18 was made known UP FRONT. They didn’t trick anyone! I don’t have a screen shot but on my message board we all very clearly understood that there would be:

    1. a 160 kpbs 10-song digital release coming (we interpreted this was to defeat leaks and present the finished product rather than an unauthorized mix as happened with an earlier release. Also, we all got to listen to it at the same time, which we thought was really cool);
    2. the 18 song two-disc or two-vinyl albums with Stanley Donwood’s art and a box and extra goodness coming for the hardcore (there was some quibbling about the price, but to get all that manufactured just for you, and shipped anywhere in the whole wide world for £40 actually was thought reasonable, even if out of reach for some);
    3. CD releases expected at a later date. This was not specifically stated as “January 2008 we’ll have ‘er in stores, kids,” but it was clear. I expect the CD will come out in the 10-song and an 18-song bonus tracks version. It is not a “double album,” either; it’s described as bonus tracks, analogous to b-sides IMHO.

    We didn’t just make it all up in our heads, we read it on the website. Who are all the people with all this NOBODY TOLD ME IT WAS A SECRET I DIDN’T KNOW stuff?

    If you didn’t want 10 songs at 160 kbps, you didn’t have to have it. You could wait till the hard copies made it to a record store near you.

    If you thought 160 kbps was too LAME to pay money for, you could have it for free until something better came along. Which you could then pirate or pay for, as you chose.

    If you want the bonus disc, you can pre-order it in the boxset, or wait until it shows up in some special edition in a store. Or pirate it when it’s available, if you think it should all be free and musicians shouldn’t get any recompense for their work.

    I just don’t see the misrepresentation, bait-and-switch, mean-spirited enticement, or whatever that’s got people so riled up. There was a fair bit of text on the page with the order information, but it wasn’t exactly like a bank’s Terms and Conditions or something.

  40. MsBehaviour NZ says:

    I’ve just read the gorgeously geeky Radiohead Binary Theory, AKA the TENspiracy at Puddlegum’s Radiohead: 01 and 10. Apparently OK Computer and In Rainbows are meant to be mixed together into a megamix. Which is far easier with digital files than plastic discs…

  41. neven says:

    Bng Bng s jst tctc t bst sc-f bk sls?

  42. Mark Doner says:

    Voracity posted: “The probably won’t do it again”.

    Why is that? They would be stupid not to. Granted they probably won’t make $6,000,000 next time but those zeros are hard for a person with even a modicum of business sense to ignore.

  43. raduga_NINE says:

    Oh boy howdee am I sick of people bitching about “low” 160Kbps mp3s. Give me a break, do you not see the thousands upon thousands of iPod-jacked gargoyles roaming the streets and riding the trains with those crappy white earbuds in their ears? Most people don’t care about sound quality. Even less could tell the difference between a 160Kbps MP3 and an audio CD even if they tried.

    I’ve listened to In Rainbows on my studio monitors and in my Grado headphones, and it sounds wonderful and I’ve had about 10 hours of excellent listening to my “crappy download”. So sod off.

  44. Billistic says:

    Maybe it would’ve been more profitable if more people were willing to pay for the kind of music they were putting out there…

    Their stuff has been in that experimental direction for a while now, not exactly accessible…. After I downloaded the album I wasn’t jumping back to the site to fork over some coin….

  45. ithacated says:

    I don’t have time to scroll through 80-some comments, but has anyone posited that the music was made knowing that it’d be released at 160? that the “lesser-quality” sound was a stylistic choice? though i guess that’d be in addition to the higher-quality release later on.

  46. Kimrod says:

    I paid US$13.48 for my Radiohead download.

    Why?

    Because I respect the band, their music and the way they choose to distribute and make money from their efforts. We do live in a capitalistic society. How are they any different than McDonald’s selling hamburgers?

    It was Radiohead’s choice how to release it. Ok. It was my choice to pay a fair price for their efforts. No biggie.

    I did so because I enjoy their music and didn’t want to wait until next year for the “official” release. As far as the quality goes, I listen to mp3 pretty much all of the time. I’m not an audiophile in the least. This is good enough quality for me.

    What is better than the quality issue is the fact they had control and the music industry didn’t. The music industry didn’t/shouldn’t/can’t fleece them of their wool at basement prices. At least, I hope this is the case. Maybe I’m naive…I put my money where my mouth is.

  47. erindipity says:

    Why, let’s all mudwrestle in the broken ground!

  48. theminx says:

    For the record, I bought the box set and thus got the download included, and didn’t have to agonize over how much or little I cared to pay for it. I wouldn’t characterize myself as rabid so much as impatient for LP7.

    1. The bitrate was stated there right up front on the announcement. No surprises except for the illiterate.
    2. The fact that the CDs would be released in stores at a later date was also stated right up front.
    3. While I expect that the sound quality of the actual CDs will be better than the download, I’ve burned a copy for in the car and it sounds reasonably good, and it sounds fine on my iPod and my computer. I’m not a hysterical audiophile though.
    4. There were some considerable costs involved with arranging the servers to deliver 1.2 million downloads…there have been hiccups in spite of their best preparations, etc., but surely nobody thinks that facilitating a download of that magnitude was simple or cheap? so while they had few of the traditional costs associated with the release, I don’t think it’s fair to characterize it as all gravy. Not to mention there was no label footing the costs to record the album or pay all the people responsible for that.

    People who feel somehow hard done by for their .49p or $2 or $5 “loss” should look at their CD collections and take note of all the crap they paid full price for.

  49. Betty says:

    “a tactic to boost CD sales?” As opposed to what, some sort of religious act? What on earth did people think it was?

  50. R. says:

    “just a tactic?”

    What’s with the accusatory tone? what is this? High School? Are people getting mad at the fact they paid and now they will end up paying more for an actual CD? Even though it was up to them?

    You have to give Radiohead a lot of credit for stepping up. Luckily for them they’ll reap a solid profit from it cuz things won’t not be this good next time around now that these tactics have been exposed. Tough luck NIN, Oasis, Jamiroquai, et al.

  51. DRPOLLIWOG says:

    I don’t believe that there were any “stylistic choices” involved in the production of music intended for release online at 160kbps. The fact is, much like HDTV, most consumers of primarily electronic media don’t own equipment able to take advantage of the benefits of higher bitrates. When ripping a CD to iTunes or WMP, the average consumer will use the default compression, 128kbps.

    Honestly, I think the hullabaloo about Radiohead “condescending to fans” or “trying to make money” is a load. Radiohead is the job of every man in the band. Why begrudge a good artist — or any good craftsman — payment for services rendered?

    In defense of album purchasers: I am a consumer of mainly electronic music. Most of those consumers who are able to afford huge record and CD collections and high-end stereo equipment are older, and make considerably more money than I do. I have every intention of gathering a huge music collection after I have my “real job” (when I’m finished with my degrees). Electronic music consumption is popular, not because anyone is lazy or cheap, but because the major consumers of current music are unable to afford to buy every CD they enjoy. We’ll be a huge market for record companies in the future, but are unable to do so at this time.

  52. Wingo says:

    I agree with most of the sentiments here.

    1. You had the option to pay ZERO. How can you complain about being ripped off?

    2. Of course it was a promotional ‘scheme’. That’s what bands have to do. Who cares? It’s a bold, ingenious one. Why not give them credit?

    3. Can you really tell that it’s 160kbps? Does it REALLY sound crappy to you? I’m a musician with a trained ear, and it sounds beautiful. Granted, I don’t have a $5k stereo system, but how many people really do?

    4. It’s a fascinating social/marketing experiment. Look how much everyone is talking about it. Mission accomplished.

    5. It raises questions about traditional models of distribution and mocks record labels. Isn’t that EXACTLY what we need right now?

    I seriously think all of this dissent is being fueled by the record industry propagandists in order to quash this kind of ‘rebellion’. The record industry is freaking out and scrambling to put a negative light on all of this. If you really read Jonny Greenwood’s statements, I think their ultimate purpose is really just to provoke debate, and try something totally different – which is exactly what happened.

    More power to you Radiohead. I think this is a great album, and I’m glad they profited from it. They truly deserve it.

  53. Delaney says:

    Minx, I go for side rail in front of Jonny or Ed. For your commitment to rationality and general sanity, your rail spot on the Thom side of me is assured. I’m adelaney on atease, not that I’ve really posted much at all since the great board crash of 2003. Your board? And Caffeina? Roll on roley wheel. You rock.

  54. Delaney says:

    First of all, I would like to say that this thread is perhaps one of the greatest discussions of the future of moral commerce over digital distribution that I have read in a long time.

    Secondly, there doesn’t seem to be much of anyone coming to the defense of Xeni Jardin here, so I want to take a step back and really try to understand her argument which she doesn’t believe I am understanding. Okay, I think she was saying that the nugget of truth of her argument was in this statement:

    “The point is this: it would appear from statements made by band members and reps, and from the release itself that the digital product was released as an incomplete product at a lower quality than it could have been for the specific purpose of encouraging CD sales.”

    This makes sense, I don’t agree that it was for the specific purpose of encouraging CD sales, mostly because I don’t think they would need any encouragement given how famous a band they are, but this seems to be a valid argument. The lower quality part is a given. 160kbps is not equal to CD quality. Fine. My counter to this would simply be that to release in flac, SHN or the like to millions of fans would not be economical without a minimum fee. I think at this point Radiohead is pretty much fine with risking only breaking even. But if I were in the room I would shout down the suggestion of releasing over the Internet with current bandwidth costs at lossless quality. Internet distribution is no longer virtually free when you’re trying to deliver half a gig of data to every user. You would not break even with this model, that’s a lot of data. 1.2 million x .5GB? Yowch. Not to mention you’d have to deal with the support issues of a legion of fans not knowing what to do with SHN or flac.

    Obviously we’re squabling over small arguments, except that there are larger implications here for what Radiohead have done. Should this model spread? Jardin seems to imply that there are a significant number of users that would count this as such an inferior quality product that they would want to upgrade. I don’t agree. 160kbps seems fine to most users. Secondly she claims this is an incomplete product. Again, though it’s been stated before, I don’t agree. The album is the album, the bonus tracks are the bonus tracks. Saying they should have released the bonus tracks with the album strikes me as similar to a departing customer, having forked over their $9 for a movie ticket, grumbling that they didn’t get the outtakes and deleted scenes with their big screen movie ticket.

    Finally, the heart of her argument suggests that it was the intent, not the content of the band’s actions which register concern. I.e. they wanted to sell more discs. Okay, maybe. I don’t deny that they’re going to make more money this way. The recording industry would screw them out of most of their profit the traditional way. I just don’t understand why this is a bad thing. Xeni, please be as clear as you can because honestly this is where change takes place, in weird random conversations like this. Obviously you’re happy about the way the band distributed, you just think there is a better way. Are you saying that ideally they would release over the internet in lossless and then have a CD release? I can’t imagine you’re hoping they would have no CD release at all, because, like it or not, not everybody is wired and to not release in physical form at this point in history, I believe, is elitist and wrong. To say that you have to be connected to the internet to receive an important piece of art, at a time in history when plenty of elderly people in the developed world haven’t the faintest idea how to connect to the internet is irresponsible. I don’t believe you are saying this. I believe you are making a very small, valid point. You want them to release the entire album plus bonus tracks in lossless quality. I think someday this might be practical. But today, I would not recommend it. If anyone at W.A.S.T.E. suggested they should I would tell them to take a hike. It’s too much data. At the very least I don’t think you should be disappointed that they didn’t release the album exactly as you would have done. Anymore than you should be disappointed that Newton didn’t come up with the theory of relativity. We stand on the shoulders of giants and all that. This was groundbreaking for the industry, can’t we just leave it at that? I know you’re proud of Radiohead too. I personally don’t think they should take a loss on their album. I think releasing it in lossless gives a significant risk of taking a loss. I don’t believe they give two craps about whether someone downloads it or gets it via their little mini record deal. They want to make sure it’s available for everyone.

    Xeni. I’m really trying here. I think boingboing is a bastion of what the internet can be, a website on a hill if you will. And your podium does not shout into the wind. Your podium is important. People pay attention to this blog. If I’m interpreting your argument correctly, you’re asking Radiohead to give terabytes of bandwidth and expect end users to understand how much that costs and donate reparations to offset that cost. I don’t think that’s legitimate. I really believe you should give your full-throated support to this release.

    If I’m wrong, if your argument is smaller than that…if you’re only saying that it is wrong to give away something with the idea that you will be paid back in physical sales….I’m afraid I just don’t understand. Yes, they probably could have released in 192kbps. It would have delayed the release to tens of thousands of fans, but they could have done it. This seems to be a minor judgement call that is quite legitimate. Going beyond 192 to 320 to me seems unreasonable. Therefore…your main argument seems to boil down to the idea that it is wrong, fundamentally, to promote physical sales by any free, open means. I am a socialist. I do not understand that argument.

    Okay…you don’t think it’s a complete product. Given. Then any album released without its bsides is an incomplete product right? You think it could have been released in higher quality. Given. Then releasing at normal quality is disappointing? It is wrong to release for free digitally with the expectation that physical sales will offset that. Given. So the expectation of profit itself is immoral?

    I’m pretty far left, and I don’t agree. I do believe in the idea that anything you create is yours to do with as you please. I also believe it is morally better to release something of value to the greatest extent you can for free to as many people as you can for the purpose of improving the general welfare. I also believe it is legitimate to design a model that means you can return your losses in the hopes of creating more in the future that you can release to the general public. If I interpret your argument correctly, you’re saying that NPR should be castigated because it doesn’t release its product in high definition radio simply because it can. I just don’t get it Xeni. I really don’t. Can’t we just call this an incredibly idealistic experiment that will pave the way for more? Given that your site is ad-supported, shouldn’t we be grateful that theirs isn’t? I bought the discbox, that transaction is equal…40 pounds spent, 40 pounds of merchandise at some point will be delivered. I also donated a further 15 pounds to the band, to offset those who could not or would not afford to pay a reasonable price for the digital download, because I believe in rewarding idealism. I believe that, given that I am a middle class American, I am super rich on the world stage and I believe the world deserves Radiohead’s music. I believe that my donation makes it likely that they will be able to deliver their music to greater numbers of people at low or no cost. I also believe that if they offered a pay what you will model at lossless quality less people would end up hearing their music. Their downloads would be abandoned. Successful downloads would be disgarded in frustration at not being able to decode the data. And bandwidth that could have been spent delivering the basics of the data to millions was squandered by delivering perfect audio to a few. I think it is elitest and wrong to claim that you deserve lossless quality while others have nothing. I think someone in Africa is downloading lossy mp3s over a pay network that they couldn’t afford to keep running while rich Westerners tie up the servers downloading lossless recordings. I think it is irresponsible to castigate an organization for risking stacks of money buying a legitimate delivery device, because they didn’t risk ten stacks of money buying an overwhelming delivery device.

    I think it is irresponsible because you own a legitimate podium on the internet stage to declare what is good and beneficial to humanity and what is detrimental to the people at large. I think it is irresponsible because in some slight way I think it discourages other organizations from following in Radiohead’s brave footsteps. I believe, though I admit out of humility that I may still not understand what precisely you mean, that you should issue a retraction.

  55. Xeni Jardin says:

    Hey guys — jeez, you’d think I said the iPhone is gay or something. Simmer down, whoah.

    So, yeah, pretty much what @voracity said, although I’m not speculating that the band *won’t* do this again.

    My point here isn’t that fans were “ripped off,” I’m perfectly capable of typing that if I’d meant it. I typed what I meant.

    It appeared to many when this news first came out that the band was testing out a new, direct-to-consumer method for distributing digital music without DRM, with the digital files being the endgame (and CDs or vinyl available for whoever wants ‘em).

    Instead, it appears now that the digital distribution was a sort of loss leader , with less-then-optimal quality files offered for the sole purpose of selling more copies of the physical CD, and that’s why these files were released at a far lower bitrate than even Radiohead had previously offered — Hail to the Thief was sold online at one site @ 320 kbps.

    There’s a difference between 160 – 320, guys, that’s the whole point of the band’s comments, and the comments of their rep. 160 kbps, LOL, that’s like, what, state of the art circa 1997.

    I think Bob Lefsetz made the case for why this is a letdown better than I can:

    This wouldn’t happen with a new band. New bands are WIRED, they UNDERSTAND the Internet. Whereas now we know that Radiohead doesn’t really believe in files, they live still live in the nineties, we’re supposed to buy the CD

    Read his entire post, it’s great: Link.

    I am still a big fan of Radiohead. The album’s great. I shelled out a silly amount of money for the downloads because I wanted to support the idea of un-DRMmed, high-quality files as being a perfectly good way to sell music in and of itself.

    This isn’t the end of the world, but it is lame.

  56. Draconum says:

    Okay, I can see both sides of this issue here. I, like many, at first was very upset about this post. Then I started to see both sides a little bit.

    Of course, I think complaining about something that’s technically ‘free’ isn’t really called for, but on the other hand, Xeni’s point was that if they honestly wern’t expecting any money from you, they would, indeed, have offered a much higher quality file and the “whole album”.

    What did Radiohead get by doing this? An ASSLOAD of publicity. Everybody covered this story with the assumption that they were giving away the music to people who didn’t want to pay, and people who wanted to support the band will pay anyway. (Which is true, sort of). But, ultimately, they got just a modicrum more credit than they deserved and 10x the publicity for it. And likewise, they made a HUGE sum of money and came out way, way, way ahead for it.

    It’s like someone who helps a charity for a tax write off. They did a good thing.. sorta.

    As for the whole Cory issue – I think Cory’s perfectly in his rights to do what he does with his material. He’s also within to advertise it (ON HIS OWN BLOG I might add, keeping in mind that when MY album comes out, you better believe I’m going to pimp it on my own damn site!). Sure, if Xeni had made the direct comparison herself, and expected Radiohead or anybody to do the same thing just because, that would be lame, but she didn’t, so, uh, yeah.

    The WHOLE issue at hand is one of subtle, ulterior motives. Which, actually, does not seem like that big a deal to me. So I don’t know if I would have written this post myself, but I can see the point being made, and it’s a valid one.

    Nuff said imo.

  57. Delaney says:

    Yeah I gotta say…all respect to BB and all…this is a fantastic site. But the headline of this post has got to be one of the dumbest in its history. Kinda like the daily tv news that comes in with headlines like:

    “Yogurt: what you don’t know could kill you!”

    And then the story follows something along the lines of: “A man in Duluth, Minnesota was killed from eating yogurt Friday. The coroner traced the cause of death to a tub of Dannon yogurt. ‘It wasn’t the first tub of yogurt he’d eaten that day,’ said Ronald Heathton, the county coroner. ‘The first tub didn’t kill him. Based on the contents of his stomach we’re presuming that it was something on the order of the 250th tub of yogurt he’d eaten that day that finally did him in.’ Dannon could not be reached for comment, and has certainly not issued a recall. Brian?” “Thanks Sharon, scary stuff yes?” “Very much so Brian, watch out for those active cultures.” “Will do. In other news, books have recently been proven to prevent ignorance!”

  58. Phil J Leitch says:

    I essentially agree with Xeni’s overall point. To the non-average fan (me, I actually don’t even like Radiohead) the impression was that the album was being released in two ways.

    1. The download you could pay what you wish.
    2. The fancy box set for 40pounds.

    Maybe it was all made clear on some messge board reserved for Radiohead fans, but to assume everybody that was buying the download would go read that first is stupid. Also, there was no mention on the site that there was any other release other than the box set.

    It is amazing how angry the obvious Radiohead fans are getting over this. If this had been Bon Jovi that did it I would bet that all of you that have gotten bent out of shape by Xeni’s post would be saying the same thing she said.

    Look, she didn’t bash the band or their music. Just the fact that the entire download/box set thing wasn’t what it was presented as.

    I purchased it ($5 US) because I wanted to support what I thought was a bold move, even though like I said I can’t stand the band. In fairness I listened to it and it isn’t bad, I’ll probably listen again. If I had loved it and ended up rethinking my feelings toward them I most likely would have paid the $80 for the box set. I wouldn’t however buy the $12 CD at Best Buy. I’m not an audiophile and while I personally rip my CDs at a higher rate, this is just fine.

    All the other points I think aren’t that big. The biggest thing, at least to me, is that I made a purchase based on what I as a non-Radiohead fan knew at the time of purchasing.

    In regards to if it is a full album or not. If the $12 CD you can pick up at Best Buy only has 10 songs on it then yeah, it’s the complete album. If there is a vinyl version with only 10 songs, then yeah, I’ll agree again. If it is released in any other standard format with 10 songs. But if every other release contains “bonus” and “b-sides” then are those really extras or did the download release just not include them?

    Again, the people arguing this are obviously Radiohead fans and not Bon Jovi or Nickleback fans because they are all being little whiny kids because Xeni had the nerve to say something bad about the band.

  59. Delaney says:

    Xeni. I’m sorry…I don’t think you should try to defend this one. I think you should issue a retraction. “Lame”? Seriously? You just state in your comment your post was meant to say that the release was a loss leader. Yet your post claimed there was a possibility they made $10 million dollars. I’m not sure exactly how much money it cost to make the album…but I’m guessing it was less than $10 million dollars. Even if they didn’t expect to make that much, even if they’d hoped for $1 million it wouldn’t be a loss leader. Ms. Jardin…you are a wonderful gift to the internet. This is not your finest post.

  60. Xeni Jardin says:

    LOL, won’t be issuing a retraction here, that’s silly. Do the math, some of the figures I pointed to (which are estimates, and not estimates I came up with personally) include predicted pre-sales of the physical CD and vinyl. The band was taking orders for both CD and download simultaneously.

    Their rep pretty much said “we’re selling files solely for the purpose of boosting CD sales,” and I paraphrased this. Nothing to retract.

    Didn’t say they weren’t making any money off downloads. And who knows, if they really did rake in that much from downloads alone, maybe next time they’ll think about the release process differently (and offer digital files which are an equivalent product, not a lesser product intended to encourage CD sales).

    Ah, also — the downloads were an incomplete album, as I understand it. The CD and vinyl include more material, more tracks, with the apparent intent being “try this out via low quality download, then go buy the REAL thing.”

    Guess what, for a lot of us, digital downloads ARE the REAL thing. I’m perfectly happy purchasing entire albums digitally and having that be the entire purchasing and listening experience. I don’t need no stinkin’ CDs, or vinyl, though it’s great if others prefer that, to each his own.

    Why not go end to end digital? I think that’s lame. Not a crime, not “ripping off your fans,” but cmon, it’s lame. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.

    I guess that even with all of this considered, you could consider what Radiohead did here to be one step forward. But IMO, they should have followed up with the other foot.

  61. Anonymous says:

    Well, it says a lot about how stupid the music industry is if this is true. What it screams more than anything is that the music industry’s pricing structure is hopelessly anachronistic.

    But you knew that already.

    Radiohead has gotten it’s music into more hands and more ears by hitting every traunch of consumer with the right format and at the right price. Doesn’t this say a hell of a lot? Like, the music industry adds little or no value?

    Here in the UK Prince gave away his latest album for free in the newspapers, and I’d bet it onlty helped sales when the CD came out.

    Look: In developed nations, for most people, the cost of a good CD is so little compared to our income that it’s almost not an issue to voluntarily pay more than we might have to. This frees us to pay more or less what we think something’s worth without worrying about affording dinner tonight. And you know what? Given the choice, people pay a fair price in order to support a band they love. Meanwhile, the music industry was busy treating both fans as well as their artists with pure hostility. No wonder they’re out of business.

    -Em

  62. Setharian says:

    I can’t fathom not understanding it was a promotion. That said, I still say it was all cosmetics. Let’s face it, it would be free whether Radiohead said so or not.

  63. Delaney says:

    So wait….If I release a product for free but offer an avenue for donations if the consumer desires to pay me for it and am entirely up front about the contents of that product…and then I later issue another product that contains some of the original content and additional content for pay…that’s morally questionable?

    Just exactly in what way was the download/box set different from what it was presented as? They said it was 160kbps. It was. They said that it currently was the only way to receive the album. It was. They said the download only version was 10 tracks and more were available for a higher price. It was.

    No, I don’t care for Bon Jovi or Nickleback. I’m not even sure that’s how you spell Nickleback. But if I understand correctly you (Phil J Leitch) are saying that Radiohead, at the time of issuing (holy shit) a free product, should have stated all the other avenues that they would in future release the current content before they offered (not even asked for…but offered) an avenue for donations. This seems in no way different from objecting to a chef putting out a tip jar because the pie you received for free was later offered to everyone, including you, with a cherry on top for a specified payment while the pie was still available for free without the cherry. Yes, I am a crazy wacked out Radiohead fan who stands in line for hours for the front row of concerts. Yes, I am so insane as to buy every official release they put out. Nevertheless, I don’t think I’m crazy to hypothesize that you, sir, are completely out of your mind.

  64. Anonymous says:

    5 million $ net,

    split four ways.

    It’s a nice payday, but hard to keep up a rock star lifestyle with that kind of money.

    Very good heart surgeon money though. The heart surgery work is easier to break into, and more steady. But it takes a higher investment of time and money for education.

    Heart Surgery or Guitar Hero Radiohead?

    -ME

  65. erindipity says:

    No retraction necessary, facts are fine. It’s ok if Radiohead gets a little mud on their shoes while breaking ground…
    Maybe this is just some bizarre attempt at modesty ;)

  66. blip says:

    - Radiohead’s “groundbreaking” decision

    Did I miss something? Was it not groundbreaking? I paid 3 pounds for a FULL album ages before the physical media release. Do you want me to gripe that is wasn’t a 192 kbps and I didn’t get the bonus tracks and artwork?

  67. sonny p fontaine says:

    OK Xeni, I’ve read, and reread your post trying very much to take it as a bit of Mephistophelian advocacy. I’ve been checking back form time to time keeping up on your rebuttals and I have to say I’m more than a bit disappointed. I understand what you’re saying, but I’ve also understood the intent of Radiohead from the begining. I haven’t downloaded much less paid for it. And I probably won’t buy the hard recording. hell, I didn’t even go to the site and I understood what they were doing and appreciated and respected them for it. And I would have to imagine that you understood just as well. So for you to go through the motions and grossly overpay almost as an excuse to come back and state your preconcieved conclusion seems a bit vapid. I’d expect this sort of sludge from cory, but I’d always held you in a higher regard. You’re just a bit tarnished to me now. The whole thing comes across as deceitful.

  68. Delaney says:

    Rlly? h gsh, Ms. Jrdn. Okay…maybe the rep said that. I don’t think that statement from the rep makes any sense however and given how paranoid this whole thing has got to have made the recording industry I’m not believing anything that sounds completely irrational. But even if he did say it, it makes no sense. The discbox doesn’t come out until December and is priced for hardcore fans. The kind of fans that download the leak, download twenty concerts, and still buy the album and all singles multiple times. Now the CD, the traditional record release, of which you speak comes out next year. Next year. They have made this huge window for everyone that has access to the Internet to get the record. Not only to get it but to then become excited about more current music. If they’d released 3/4 of the album on the Internet and then released the CD two weeks later you’d have a case. But I’m wracking my brain and I can’t think of a single other thing the band could have done to make this release better. Yes, sure they could have released it under CC license. But failing that…. I mean, it’s great that they’re releasing a CD. The internet is not as ubiquitous as we all think it is. Many people in the world have no access to the internet who do have access to some disposable income. Furthermore bandwidth costs a lot of money and offering flac or something for pay what you will would have kept the tracks from many fans trying to access the server. If bandwidth was better I’m sure they would release CD quality.

    I’m sorry you think this puts even the slightest blemish on this beautiful release. I’m sorry in some sense this was ruined for you. But I don’t see the blemish, maybe you think I’ve blinded myself I don’t know. I still, two weeks later, get a little teary when I think of what my favorite band has done. I’m so proud of them I could burst.

    Looking forward to your future posts.

  69. Xeni Jardin says:

    @Delaney, none of this changes the artistic merit of the album. The business of art and the body of art are, and always will be, distinct. Related, yes, but distinct. They’re two separate discussions.

    I think we can very rationally and candidly critique business decisions while being shameless, drooling fans of the music itself (I sure am).

    In Rainbows is a fucking awesome piece of work. I am no less of a fan of the music, even if I believe this release strategy was flawed.

  70. caffeina says:

    I overpaid. It’s how I roll.

    I’m not disappointed.

  71. BattyMcDougall says:

    This skullduggery helps further support my hypothesis that Radiohead has done more to hurt pop music than help it…
    Shame…

  72. Brother Phil says:

    As people are saying – just a promotion? Is craphound just a promotion? Are Baen’s free download’s just a promotion?
    “Here it is. Try it. If you like it, and want a shiny professional version you can hold in your hand, you can buy it”. Sounds good to me.

  73. Delaney says:

    ” I don’t need no stinkin’ CDs, or vinyl, though it’s great if others prefer that, to each his own. Why not go end to end digital? I think that’s lame.”

    I think you kinda answer your own question. It’s great if others prefer that, why go end to end digital? Because others prefer physical releases. I prefer that. I know I’m a big dumb Radiohead fan, but Stanley Donwood’s art is a huge part of my love of Radiohead. It creates a sense of place, a visual dimension to the music. The weeping minotaur, the nonesuch library, the post-apocalyptic mood are part of the richness of Radioheadness. Yes, they could issue a little pdf with artwork. But I don’t want a stupid pdf with artwork. And I spend 50% of my 24 hour day at a computer. I want a book like the Amnesiac book that I can leaf through while listening to the music and fill up on. There’s a romance there, a tactile relationship with the art. I wouldn’t give that up just so that the sum total of the experience could be pay what you will. To me, that’s like wishing there was no filet mignon in the world so that the experience of eating a free bowl of soup could be the ultimate. That’s like the joke in Henry V, where old Sir Thomas Erpingham prefers the hard, cold ground of the battlefield of France because now he can say, “Now lie I like a king.”

    I respect your desire for the entire experience to be digital. But I also respect the band’s respect for other points of view.

  74. cannonfodder says:

    I bet radiohead still got more money that if they had just accepted the “highwayman” type royalty deals that the studios offer!

  75. oboreruhito says:

    I was going to let this go until Xeni insinuated that Radiohead was being condescending to its audience. Come on, now.

    I’m sorry Radiohead disappointed you for not being brave enough to blindly trust the fickle, ungrateful, seething Internet and “let go of the vine and fly forward.” But I’m with theminx – the only way Radiohead can even appear “condescending” here is if you didn’t read what they told you before and during the transaction.

    First, your comparison to Cory’s books is flawed. Electronic books _are_, by their nature, an inferior product that lack the navigation features and portability of a physical book. And as an example, “Overclocked” is only available piecemeal, without cover artwork, without the printed version’s typography and with loads of “machine-readable metadata” that I don’t want, even on the PDF versions built for printing. I can fix these things, but at the expense of my time, ink and paper, so it costs me in the end.

    And I pay as much for Cory’s eBook releases as I paid for In Rainbows – $0. Can I send Cory a fiver in the mail and a note thanking him for the eBook, even if I don’t want to pay the full price for the print edition, even if I’m happy with reading it on a PDA with a crappy display, the same way I read everything these days? Sure.

    Can I do that with “In Rainbows,” even if I’m happy hearing a lossy mp3s on my $20 car stereo and $5 headphones, the same way I listen to everything these days? Sure – in fact, Radiohead set up a nifty, secure credit-card form to pay them, so they one-up Cory in that respect. Cory’s writings are released in Creative Commons, so they one-up Radiohead in that respect.

    But they both serve an ultimately commercial purpose, and both admit to it: Cory doesn’t want me selling his eBooks where there are people who can afford to buy full-quality print books from him, but I can do anything I want with them as long as I let everyone know who wrote them, and by tacit extention who to buy them from. If you want, you can spend more for a collectible signed copy.

    Radiohead let you spend what you wanted on a 10-song album – not demos, not singles, not part of an album, but a cohesive work of musical art – and in the process, everybody knew it existed, and that a full-quality CD you could buy was on the way. If you want, you can spend more for a collectible boxed set.

    Again, nobody involved with the production and distribution of In Rainbows said Radiohead was trying to think forward about the music industry. Radiohead never said they were setting a precedent, fighting the labels, or fostering a new business model. They never even said they weren’t pursuing a traditional album sale or record label. At best, their management said it’s an experiment:

    “The final acid test,” Mr. Edge said, “is come January, when the music has been available. Will there still be sufficient demand for a CD for us to feel that we’ve proved that making music available does not necessarily cannibalize CD sales?” (NYT)

    Radiohead wanted to get music to fans faster than they could get it on a CD and offer them a tip jar, while finding out what the record labels won’t put the effort into learning because they fear the results – what exactly happens when a major band does release it online first?

    The only people disappointed are the people who set a higher bar for this distribution than Radiohead did for themselves. Radiohead was honest about the release from the beginning. Others came up with unanswered questions and answered them themselves with the best possible answers, never asking the band what their intent was.

    In the process, these too-hopeful music industry haters (and I say that with admiration) turned “In Rainbows” into the Second Life of album releases – an overhyped step forward in the evolution of media.

    And hey, that’s still fine. But all this attention to how the distribution method is inferior to the hype is bothersome. It is what it is, and what it was described as by the people who did it. I read Bob Lefsetz’s post, and it’s angry hyperbole repeating already beaten-into-the-ground anger at Radiohead for not catering to audiophiles. That’s not good; it’s asinine. The only part I agree with is that a tip jar isn’t a business model, which would be a sharp comment if Radiohead hadn’t implied that two days before he did.

    This wasn’t a shitty release by a band that doesn’t understand the Internet; this was a hell of a lot better and more connected than Beck releasing an advance single and nothing else, or major-label bands posting 20-second iTunes advance previews for a record that’s already got hundreds of torrent seeds, or a pirate posting an unfinished product.

    Xeni, how is that condescending to Radiohead’s audience? How is it missing the point of the Internet? How is it even lame? You’ll get your high-quality, paid download, just like you did for “Hail to the Thief.” What is the problem?

  76. Anonymous says:

    The largest problem that I had with the “release” was the misrepresentation that this was the whole album itself,not a piece or three. I paid for what I thought was the album, with no indication on the website itself that this wasn’t so. If I’d known, I probably would have saved my 6 dollars and ponied up the difference for the real deal. Now either I’m out an extra 6 dollars or out the rest of the album. I won’t weep over a lost cup of expensive coffee, but I will rant about false advertising.

  77. Anonymous says:

    Ignore the griping about the 160 vs 256 and all that.

    This was not Radiohead “getting it” about “piracy” and access to music.

    This was about a promotional ploy to reduce “piracy” before the CD was available.

    If Radiohead really “got it”, they would have simply made the full album available for download at full quality, regardless of the CD.

    Still producing the CD would have been a good idea for those fans in the world without Net access or who are merchandise freaks who just love buying hard CDs. (Lots of people like that – they will go away someday exactly as very few people buy high-quality phonograph records these days. Even though high-quality phono disks give better quality sound than ANY sampled CD bitrate – by definition. But who cares if YOU can’t hear the difference?)

    What Radiohead SHOULD learn from this exercise is that they CAN make their music directly accessible to the fans and general public, and get paid enough for it to make a profit WITHOUT having a record label and WITHOUT having any DRM and WITHOUT sweating “piracy”.

    If you view “piracy” as just “unauthorized marketing”, you realize that it’s a benefit to you in that it increases your market at no cost to you. This is more valuable than any “lost sales” – as long as you can provide the music at the same cost more directly than the pirates can – and monetize the marketing elsewhere (by touring, or as I’ve said many times, live broadcast over the Net.)

    The business model of selling music as physical merchandise is OVER. Perhaps not entirely yet, as the Net is not globally ubiquitous, but it will be within another decade or so.

    The future is live broadcast over the Net. Reduce your touring, make greater contact with your customers, remove the middlemen reducing your profit, ad revenue, easier marketing. It’s all there for the taking for some forward-thinking musicians.

  78. Chorske says:

    What flabbergasts me is this: Radiohead make their files avaiable online, in a format and at a bitrate that should accomodate most users. They ask people to pay what they think is a fair price for X years of work and expertise, and people grumble about paying $5?

    I am all for fighting the copyright vultures etc, and I download all the time- but I am really worried that many of us have forgotten what a ‘fair price’ is. Many of us held the moral high ground by saying we would support the artists directly if we could. But now, given the opportunity, we complain about paying $5 (!), and justify bypassing Radiohead’s site and downloading via torrents by complaining about bitrate. Maybe we really do expect to get everything for free- maybe we really are the pirates the copyright vultures say we are?

  79. eliotvb says:

    I must say, I’m a bit confused about why Xeni has taken flack for this… How can it be objectionable to quote Radiohead’s own manager? Remember, this is what he said: “If we didn’t believe that when people hear the music they will want to buy the CD, then we wouldn’t do what we are doing.” How can Xeni’s acknowledgment of that quote possibly be interpreted as irresponsible?

  80. Xeni Jardin says:

    @Delaney, This isn’t a debate over whether Radiohead should have released the album under a CC license, nor did I say they should have ONLY released digitally.

    You’re missing my argument.

    The point is this: it would appear from statements made by band members and reps, and from the release itself that the digital product was released as an incomplete product at a lower quality than it could have been for the specific purpose of encouraging CD sales.

    I believe this is lame.

    Fans who prefer “just digital” should be offered an equivalent quality product if digital distribution is taken seriously. Again, this just proves that they’re not taking digital distribution as seriously as they might have. Not that they’re evil baby-rapists or frauds or that the music is bad.

    And as for the torrents — the CD isn’t out yet, I wonder what the content of the torrents is? Probably the same 160 kbps material as one might download from radiohead’s store, only without the fulfillment glitches some folks complained about, and no registration required. Not saying people *should* torrent, just observing, perhaps those were factors.

    Long run, I believe the best way to stave off unauthorized digital distribution is to offer an equivalent quality digital product at a price the market will bear. This was not an equivalent quality product. We now know why.

  81. Nivalsj says:

    I don’t understand. Was the download DRM or crippled in some way? Or was it just a fully functional audio file? If it was the latter, this is still a very good thing. It doesn’t mean they reamed the trust of their fans. They still let fans pay what they want for the music. They still attempted a very new system and could perhaps be the launching board for a much better way of experiencing music.

  82. MCZ says:

    That $6 to $10 million must really stick in the doomcriers’ collective craw. Only last week the Fairfax and the Murdoch press in Oz published articles suggesting that Radiohead fans were busily ripping the band off and that the whole project would fail. Hah!

  83. Simon Greenwood says:

    I remember that they did this with ‘Kid A’ but made it a timed, streamed broadcast, partially to prevent piracy (they probably didn’t) but also to make the preview a global event, which worked.

    I’ve got the LP *cough* and I quite like what I’ve heard so far, as I did when I listened to ‘Kid A’, which I might even still have had ISDN for, which would have made it bloody expensive, but I still don’t have any hardware Radiohead CDs.

    I like Radiohead’s attempts to do something different and detach themselves from the business a little, but their management are either being disingenuous or, well, just being management. It’s good publicity for whatever comes next.

  84. Richard Steven Hack says:

    I agree with oboreruhito that Radiohead shouldn’t be blamed for the hype around what they were doing.

    People took a lot of the commentary around what they were doing and extrapolated from it more than the band was intending. The evidence shows that the band never intended to trick anyone. However, the band also never intended to push the envelope as far as some people think they should.

    That said, hopefully Radiohead learned from this experience that they CAN take the next step and release full quality albums directly for download without DRM and without worrying about “lost sales due to piracy” and still make a profit.

    Selling music as physical merchandise is OVER. Selling ACCESS to music is still viable as long as that access is problem- and DRM- free. This is what the Radiohead experiment proves. When their site slowed down, people switched to P2P. They also switched when the site required registration.

    Eventually, however, the access will have to be direct to the artist as it was before the music industry formed to sell music as a physical product.

    The future of the music business is live performance over the Net. Reduce your touring, make greater and more frequent contact with your customers, cheaper production costs, ad revenue, better marketing to a larger audience, it’s all there for the taking of some forward-looking band.

  85. Noddy93 says:

    it was the risk of low bitrate that kept me from purchasing blindly… when i found out i gave them three U.S. dollars.

    not a chance i’ll pay more than that for a pathetic download.

    the classic “industrial band” COIL offers flac downloads for their back catalog but unfortuanately it’s in british pounds making a download purchase from the United States more expensive than a used copy from the eBay. i’d gladly pay full “U.S.” prices for an OOP .flac album.

  86. Anonymous says:

    obviously… I’ve been saying this kind of thing to everyone since it happened because it’s an issue that really gets my goat. Everybody is saying how they’re changing the music industry, are brillant and all that but I don’t think I’ve seen one person say this and be able to say why. If you’re not an established band like radiohead it doesnt change a damn thing… if anything, it makes things worse.

  87. Sensoz says:

    Too bad, I was going to pay for it. Now I won’t feel bad downloading the torrent.

  88. Xeni Jardin says:

    Well, [cough cough], please don’t Sulk. I Might Be Wrong. Call me an Airbag, or a Creep. I Just feel a little Let Down.

    I understood that Radiohead initially said they were releasing a new album as downloadable audio files on a tip-box system, not soliciting a few token Dollars and Cents from each of us to pay for a promotional preview for the real product, which is an $80 box set. Nice Dream, huh.

    Again, maybe I’m misunderstanding some of the nuances, but I believe it’s better when there are No Surprises for hardcore fans like me who are nuts enough to pay them $80 for the goddamned MP3s anyway.

    I remain Optimistic.

  89. Joe says:

    I don’t understand the objection. You get a 160 Kbps MP3 version of the album for as cheap as you want. This is higher fidelity than Internet radio stations, which usually stream at 128 Kbps. Does the band want people who like the MP3 version to buy the CD version as well? Sure, and why not? Clearly the MP3 download is worth less than a CD is worth. Fair enough; they said you could name your price.

    I think that three dollars is a very fair price, considering that it’s a lot more money than a band gets from the sale of a CD (either a physical CD or from iTunes). There’s no overhead to press the CD, ship the CD, pay the rent on the record store, pay off the radio stations under the table for plugging the record, or any of that stuff.

  90. jrucifer says:

    I think it’s great, a slap in the face for both the pirates and the music mongols. Kudos to them for pulling it off.. I’m actually surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

  91. Steve Stair says:

    160 Kbps is low bitrate? It is better than FM radio, and when you’re playing thru computer speakers or an mp3 player’s headphones, most people will be unable to hear any difference from a lossless version.

  92. Neuron says:

    My wife bought the download. I haven’t listened to it yet. The purchasing website is now broken.

    So I have a couple questions:
    (1) Was the site up front about the bitrate?
    (2) How good/bad is 160 “Kbps”? I have my iTunes importing set at 160 “kbps”, which iTunes refers to as “high quality”. I surely wouldn’t expect a CD-quality bitrate; that would take all day to download.

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