Radiohead’s New/Old Business Model: Free Music


Alterna-band Radiohead will give away its new album via digital download. The band is ostensibly giving fans the chance to pay what they think “In Rainbows” is worth; in practice that means they’re willing to take almost nothing (there’s a minimum 1 pence charge, plus another 45p for credit card handling, Bob Lefsetz reports) in exchange for their newest 10 songs.

The WSJ thinks the stunt will “challenge numerous aspects of established music-industry business models.”  If adopted widely, it will, but there’s  actually not that much new here. Many bands have made good money by charging little or nothing for recorded music and focusing on other revenue streams — like tours. The Grateful Dead, remember, made almost all of its money on the road; more recently Prince has given away his discs to people who showed up at his concerts — or simply bought the Sunday edition of The Daily Mail. Prince doesn’t have a conventional major record label deal, by the way (he does have, as Adario Strange notes below, a distribution deal with Sony-BMG’s Columbia, in which the label takes a small fee for getting his CDs into stores). And neither does Radiohead, which delivered its last album to EMI in 2003. WSJ

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