There are plenty of reports trying to guesstimate Radiohead’s take from its “In Rainbows” experiment, but all of them are very, very rough at best.
Sites like Frostfirebuzz take a slightly different stat about Radiohead’s early “pay what you want” sales–1.2 million vs. the 1.3 million we reported–and multiply it by $8 per sale (the average amount that an Internet poll suggested fans paid for the record). Voila! $10 million in a week.
Wired says “it heard” that people were paying an average of $5, so it gets to $6 million. Our gut is that the number may be even less. We think that even a scientific poll asking people what they spent would be of limited value, and would still skew high (people would be inclined to overestimate their spend, people who downloaded early are likely hardcore Radiohead fans and would be more likely to pay more, the poll was conducted by a U.K.-based Web site, and Brits are much more protective of their bands than Americans would be, etc).
There’s also a common misperception that whatever Radiohead made from “In Rainbows”, it’s more than the band would have received from a big record label, since artists’ royalties usually top out around $2 per album. Not true — a band like Radiohead could have easily received an advance of $5 million — perhaps more, from a particularly desperate label like EMI.
Radiohead is likely to make a nice sum from “In Rainbows,” but the real advantage that its giveaway stunt has conferred is freedom: Radiohead, not a music label, will own the songs it recorded (EMI owns all of Radiohead’s earlier work, for instance). Radiohead, not a music label, can decide how to market, promote and distribute the songs — if it wants to do any of the above. And Radiohead, not a music label, can decide when, where and how it wants to release its next album. Etc.
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