Unfettered by the lumbering old world music industry, Radiohead has stunned its audience by allowing fans to "pay what they want" for their new album "In Rainbows". Although many artists prior to Radiohead have released free music on the internet, few can boast the size of their fanbase.
Radiohead are an anomaly indeed. They are immensely popular and have been relevant for 15 years; they are not signed with any label; they will loose an enormous amount of money by not even setting a minimum threshold for their album download and they are releasing this project on their own website. Radiohead is probably the only major band to say "F*** You" to record labels.
In fact, Thom Yorke (Radiohead's leader) effectively did just that. He told TIME magazine after Radiohead was released from EMI/Capitol in 2003: "I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say 'F___ you' to this decaying business model."
For artists like Radiohead the marketing ramifications could be huge. When Prince released his album 3121 for free in the UK, he consequently sold out all of his London concerts. In the age of declining record sales, it seems as if concerts will remain one of the few concrete and unencumbered means to securing a return in the music industry. Although one can almost assuredly predict sold-out concerts in Radioheadís future, one can only speculate if Radioheadís free download scheme will return a profit.
The free album announcement also coincides with the news of a Radiohead box set to be released in December. The box set will include "In Rainbows" on CD, as well as vinyl and additional media, all for £40. Radiohead has made the right move here. The vast core fanbase will definitely donate a few bucks for the downloads and most of them will definitely cough up the forty pounds for the box set. Without a label, Radiohead has the freedom to experiment with the Internetís power and thusly have right to all risks and rewards associated.
The album is released on October 10, 2007 and includes the following songs:
01. 15 Step
04. Weird Fishes / Arpeggi
05. All I Need
06. Faust Arp
08. House of Cards
09. Jigsaw Falling Into Place
The official website is basically unavailable due to the crushing traffic this announcement caused. Keep trying.